Death Row

Sotomayor: Florida death penalty rule ‘Kafkaesque’

Franz_Kafka_1917U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor signed off on a recent decision denying a stay of execution for Gary Ray Bowles, a serial killer who targeted gay men, before Bowles was put to death shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday.

But Sotomayor hinted that the state’s rules may need to be revisited.

Here’s an ABA Journal article breaking down Sotomayor’s statement:

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor expressed concern last week about a Florida procedural rule that makes it difficult for death-row inmates to assert claims that their mental disability is a constitutional bar to execution.

Sotomayor called the rule “Kafkaesque” in a statement on cert denial for Gary Ray Bowles, a serial killer who targeted gay men, report Bloomberg Law, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and CNN. Bowles was executed Thursday.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia in 2002 that executions of mentally disabled inmates violate the Eighth Amendment.

In Hall v. Florida in 2016, the U.S. SuprU.eme Court struck down Florida’s bright-line IQ threshold for asserting a mental disability that would exempt inmates from execution. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that same year that the Supreme Court decision applied to prisoners sentenced before the 2016 Supreme Court ruling.

But the Florida Supreme Court has also held that inmates claiming retroactive protection under Hall must have asserted an earlier claim of intellectual disability based on Atkins. Bowles didn’t raise his claim of intellectual disability until 2017, according to an Aug. 13 Florida Supreme Court decision denying his claim.

Sotomayor criticized Florida’s requirement for inmates to have asserted an intellectual disability claim before the Supreme Court overturned Florida’s bright-line IQ rule. Under the rule, Florida did not consider an inmate to be mentally disabled unless he or she had an IQ of 70 or below. Bowles had prior IQ test scores of 74, 80 and 83.

“This Kafkaesque procedural rule is at odds with another Florida rule requiring counsel raising an intellectual-disability claim to have a ‘good faith’ basis to believe that a death-sentenced client is intellectually disabled (presumably under the limited definition of intellectual disability that Florida had then imposed),” Sotomayor said.

Sotomayor also said Florida’s procedural rule “creates grave tension with this court’s guidance in Montgomery v. Louisiana,” a 2016 Supreme Court decision giving retroactive effect to an earlier decision barring mandatory life in prison without parole for juveniles.

Sotomayor said Bowles’ cert petition raised an Eighth Amendment claim but did not address concerns based on Montgomery.

“Because I do not believe that the questions as presented merit this court’s review at this time, I do not disagree with the denial of certiorari,” she said. “In an appropriate case, however, I would be prepared to revisit a challenge to Florida’s procedural rule.”

Law professor: “Nobody” executing Death Row inmate

Chance Meyer, a Nova Southeastern University law professor who previously defended prisoners sentenced to death, penned an op-ed in advance of the execution of Cary Michael Lambrix, scheduled for Oct. 5.

Meyer, an instructor and adjunct professor at Nova’s Shepard Broad College of Law, contends those involved in the execution process — including Gov. Rick Scott — maintain that they are merely following state law in ordering and performing death by lethal injection.

Here’s Meyer’s take on the proces:

Nobody is going to execute Michael Lambrix

On Thursday, October 5, around 6:00 in the evening, in the lethal injection chamber at Florida State Prison in Bradford County, nobody is going to execute Michael Lambrix.

Nobody on the team of corrections officers that performs the lethal injection will be the one who executes Lambrix. Department of Corrections procedures give each officer a discrete task in the overall process, so nobody is responsible for the end result. The tasks are “requisite,” so nobody has to choose whether to perform them. The officers’ identities are “kept strictly confidential,” so nobody has to be anybody.

The officers just follow orders from the warden. And the warden just follows orders from the Governor.

On September 1, Governor Rick Scott sent the warden a death warrant ordering Lambrix executed.

In the warrant, Scott explained that a Florida statute “requires that I set a . . . date for execution . . . .” In other words, he didn’t choose to have Lambrix executed. Nobody did. He just followed orders from the Florida Legislature.

The Legislature passed the statute in 2013, as part of the so-called Timely Justice Act. At that time, legislators explained that their intent for the act was “that capital postconviction proceedings be conducted in accordance with court rules, and that courts strictly adhere to the timeframes . . . established therein.” In other words, the Legislature was not giving new orders. Nobody was. The Legislature was just trying to ensure that everyone would follow court orders.

A court ordered Lambrix executed, but neither the judge that issued the order nor the jurors that voted for the execution are responsible.

Lambrix was sentenced in 1984. His judge made the critical findings necessary to impose the death penalty. Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that only juries, not judges, can make “the critical findings necessary to impose the death penalty.”

In 1984, his jury’s recommended sentence of death was not unanimous. Since then, the Florida Supreme Court has held that a “jury’s recommended sentence of death must be unanimous.”

So nobody made a lawful decision to execute Lambrix.

“[T]umble[ing] down the dizzying rabbit hole of untenable line drawing” is how Justice Lewis of the Florida Supreme Court describes the legal regime that permits defendants like Lambrix to be executed. Nobody understands it.

So, on Thursday, October 5, around 6:00 in the evening, in the lethal injection chamber at Florida State Prison in Bradford County, nobody is going to execute Michael Lambrix.

 

Death Row inmate launches hunger strike

Florida Death Row inmate Cary Michael Lambrix is going on a hunger strike as a protest for his upcoming execution, set for Oct. 5.

Lambrix was sentenced to death after he was convicted of killing Aleisha Bryant and Clarence Moore in 1983 after escaping from a work-release program.

Gov. Rick Scott ordered Lambrix to be put to death last year, but a series of court rulings overturning Florida’s death sentencing system put the execution on hold. Scott reset Lambrix’s execution date earlier this month.

But Lambrix’s lawyers and supporters say the state lacks evidence that he committed the crimes.

Save Innocents, an organization based in France that provides assistance to prisoners condemned to death, issued a press release this morning announcing Lambrix’s hunger strike.

“I have been forced into a non-win situation in which the vast resources of the State of Florida are being employed to put me to death for a crime I am actually innocent of. I cannot stop anyone from executing me. But I am constitutionally entitled to protest against this injustice by declaring and maintaining a hunger strike as an expression of the free speech without governmental intrusion,” Lambrix is quoted in the release.

 

According to court documents, Lambrix met Bryant and Moore at a LaBelle bar and invited the pair to his mobile home for a spaghetti dinner. Lambrix went outside with Bryant and Moore individually, then returned to finish the dinner with his girlfriend. Bryant’s and Moore’s bodies were found buried near Lambrix’s trailer. Lambrix was originally scheduled to be executed in 1988, but the Florida Supreme Court issued a stay of that execution. A federal judge lifted the stay in 1992.

RIP: Death penalty defense doyenne Scharlette Holdman,”Mistress of Delay”

The New York Times’ eloquent obituary of Scharlette Holdman, a non-lawyer who was a “force for the defense on Death Row,” featured a few words about Ms. Holdman’s role in Florida death penalty history.

Holdman, who died at age 70 on July 12, “was a revered figure, a nonlawyer who taught her peers how to persuade jurors and prosecutors to spare the lives of men and women convicted of heinous crimes,” Maurice Chammah wrote in the Times piece published Saturday.

After the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970s, Holdman went to work for the Florida Clearinghouse on Criminal Justice in Tallahassee, “where she tried to find lawyers for convicts as their execution dates approached,” Chammah wrote.

“She was like a medic performing triage at a train wreck,” Chammah quotes from David Von Drehle’s profile of Holdman, included in his book “Among the Lowest of the Dead: The Culture of Death Row. “The first job was to determine who was closest to dying.”

Read more from the Times here.