Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Evans: Florida death penalty procedure still constitutional

In Evans v. Sec., Fla. Dep’t of Corrections, No 11-14498 (Oct. 23, 2012), the Court, reversing the district court, held that Florida’s rules allowing the imposition of the death sentence by a judge, after giving “great weight” to a jury’s advisory sentence of death, did not violate the Sixth Amendment right to jury trial, and therefore was not a basis for a grant of habeas relief.

The Court noted that in Ring v. Arizona, the Supreme Court, though finding Arizona’s judge-only procedure of imposing the death penalty unconstitutional, described Florida’s system as a “hybrid,” because the jury renders an advisory verdict but the judge makes the ultimate sentencing determination. The Court interpreted the Supreme Court’s description of Florida’s procedure as a “hybrid” as having left open the issue of its constitutionality. The Court noted that the Supreme Court, in Hildwin v. Florida, a decision predating Ring, upheld the constitutionality of Florida’s procedure. Because only the Supreme Court can overrule one of its decisions, the Court found that Florida’s procedure was not unconstitutional.

The Court also rejected the argument that defense counsel was ineffective for failing to call seven potential witnesses at Evans’s trial, finding that the Florida Supreme Court did not unreasonably reject this claim.