Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Florida Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the sentence of death imposed on Defendant after a new penalty phase ordered by the Supreme Court, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder. The trial court sentenced Defendant to death. The Supreme Court remanded for a new penalty phase pursuant to Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016), after, after a new penalty phase, the jury returned a unanimous verdict recommending that Defendant be sentenced to death. The trial court sentenced Defendant to death. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant failed to show error, much less prejudicial error. View "Deviney v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of first-degree murder, sexual battery of a person under twelve years old, and kidnapping, and the imposition of the death penalty, holding that there was no prejudicial error in this case.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not commit fundamental error in failing to grant Defendant's motion for change of venue; (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant's motion for a mistrial on account of the interruption to the testimony of the state's expert; (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant's motion to exclude autopsy photographs during certain testimony; (4) Defendant was not entitled to relief on his claim that the state made inappropriate comments in its opening statement and in closing argument; and (5) there was no cumulative error in this case. View "Smith v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of first-degree murder and his sentence of death, holding that Defendant failed to demonstrate any reversible error.Defendant pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to death. Defendant appealed, raising ten allegations of error. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err in allowing Defendant to represent himself during trial; (2) the trial court did not err in accepting Defendant's guilty plea; (3) the trial properly renewed the offer of counsel at all critical stages of the proceedings; (4) there was no reversible error in the trial court's findings on the statutory aggravators alleged by the State and on certain statutory and non statutory mitigators; (5) any error in the trial court's inclusion of a sentencing recommendation in the presentence investigation report did not rise to the level of fundamental error; and (6) Defendant was not entitled to relief on his remaining allegations of error. View "Woodbury v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's two first-degree murder convictions and two corresponding sentences of death, holding that Defendant's assignments of error were unavailing.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not err in instructing on and finding the CCP aggravator and the HAC aggravator; (2) the trial court did not err in instructing on and finding the HAC aggravator; (3) Florida’s death penalty statute is constitutional; (4) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting Defendant's two proposed impairment mitigators; (5) the trial court did not err in allowing victim impact evidence; (6) the prosecutor’s penalty phase closing argument did not violate Defendant's constitutional rights; and (7) competent, substantial evidence supported Defendant's first-degree murder convictions. View "Colley v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's first-degree murder conviction and sentence of death, holding that any error in the proceedings below was not prejudicial.Defendant pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of his cellmate. The trial court accepted the plea, finding that it was freely, voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently given. The trial court sentenced Defendant to death. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court erred in one aspect of how it handled mitigation, but the error did not prejudice Defendant; (2) the trial court did not fundamentally error by failing to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the aggravating factors were sufficient to justify the death penalty; (3) the trial court’s failure to enter a written order finding Defendant competent to proceed after orally announcing its competency finding did not constitute fundamental error; and (4) Defendant's guilty plea was knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily entered. View "Craft v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for first-degree murder and his sentence of death, holding that no error occurred in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant's request for self-representation as equivocal; (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant's peremptory challenge to an African American juror; (3) the trial court did not err in instructing the penalty phase jury; (4) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting statements made by Defendant's prior victim in support of the prior violent felony aggravator; (5) competent, substantial evidence supported the trial court's finding of the HAC aggravator and the CCP aggravator; (6) Craven’s death sentence was proportionate; and (7) the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant's conviction for first-degree murder. View "Craven v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court denying Tina Lasonya Brown's motion to vacate her conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death under Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851 and denied Brown's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that Brown was not entitled to relief.As to Brown's postconviction appeal, the Supreme Court held (1) the circuit court did not err in denying Brown's allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel in some respects but erred in denying Brown's allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel in other respects; (2) there was no reasonable probability that bur for trial counsel's deficiencies, individually or cumulatively, the outcome would have been different; (3) the circuit court did not err in denying Brown's claim of newly discovered evidence; and (4) the circuit court did not err in summarily denying Brown's claim that she was not entitled to relief from her death sentence under Hurst v. Florida, 136 S. Ct. 616 (2016), and Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016). As to Brown's habeas petition, the Supreme Court held that appellate counsel was not ineffective on direct appeal. View "Brown v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Defendant's motion to vacate his sentence of death under Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851, holding that there was no constitutional infirmity in Defendant's sentence.Defendant was sentenced to death for the murder of Karen Slattery after his jury recommended this sentence by a vote of ten to two. Defendant's conviction and sentence of death for Slattery's murder was reversed and remanded for a new trial, which delayed the finality date of his conviction and sentence for that murder and made Defendant eligible for Hurst relief. Defendant was again convicted of the Slattery murder and given the same sentence. In a successive postconviction motion, Defendant sought relief from his death sentence pursuant to Hurst v. Florida, 136 S. Ct. 616 (2016), and Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016). The circuit court denied relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Defendant's jury found that he committed first-degree murder and jury findings established the existence of two statutory aggravators, Defendant was eligible for the death penalty under the law in effect at the time of his crime. View "Owen v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below.Defendant pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. After a penalty phase, Defendant was adjudicated guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding Defendant competent to proceed; (2) the trial court did not err in failing to order a new competency evaluation before the penalty phase began; (3) Defendant's death sentence was a proportionate penalty; (4) the trial court's finding that the murder was cold, calculated, and premeditated without pretense of moral or legal justification was supported by competent, substantial evidence; (5) there was sufficient evidence to justify the trial court's finding that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel; (6) the trial court's questioning and Defendant's responses were sufficient to satisfy the requirement of a knowing, intelligent and voluntary plea; and (7) Defendant's remaining arguments on appeal were without merit. View "Santiago-Gonzalez v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the postconviction court denying Appellant's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to challenge a biased juror, holding that the postconviction court's finding that defense counsel had a reasonable, strategic basis for not challenging the juror was supported by competent, substantial evidence.Appellant was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping, and robbery. Appellant was sentenced to death for the murder. Appellant later filed a motion for postconviction relief, alleging, among other things, ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to challenge a biased juror. After the Supreme Court remanded the issue for an evidentiary hearing, the postconviction court denied the claims, finding that counsel had chosen not to challenge the juror as part of a reasonable trial strategy. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that competent, substantial evidence supported the finding that counsel made a reasonable decision not to challenge the juror; and (2) this strategy was objectively reasonable from the perspective of believing that it would operate to Defendant's advantage in this particular trial. View "Patrick v. State" on Justia Law