Before I address the latest developments regarding the recently passed “Timely Justice Act” which (if implemented) will directly lead to the signing of up to 200 death warrants in a matter of months, with each scheduled for execution within 180 days, I want to first take a moment to express my gratitude to all those who so generously reached out after the Florida Supreme Court denied my latest new evidence/innocence appeal in a particularly hostile ruling on June 27, 2013.
I cannot even begin to tell all of you how much it means to me that I have those of you who do care enough to send words of support and encouragement when the storm clouds gather above. Each day, just as every other condemned man and woman, I struggle to sustain my faith and hope that truth and justice will prevail. It’s not easy, and each time the politically corrupt courts deliberately turn a blind eye to my consistently pled evidence, supported by a virtual wealth of evidence, it becomes all that much more difficult.
But I truly am blessed by those who have so faithfully stood by me through the too many years. And I know that if not for the strength and support I receive from this small group of loyal friends, I would have given up long ago. So, thank you for all your cards and letters, and know that they are truly appreciated.
Now, I want to update all of you on the now imminent Florida Holocaust, which I wrote about in an earlier blog (“The Untimely Injustice Act”). On Monday July 15, 2013 I personally met with one of the lawyers representing death-sentenced prisoners on a comprehensive challenge to the constitutionality of this new Florida law that intends to severely limit capital post-conviction appeals and significantly speed up executions by obstructing any opportunity to develop and present new evidence supporting innocence.
This comprehensive legal challenge was formally filed in the Florida Supreme Court on June 26, 2013 and is docketed as Dane P. Abdool, et al. vs. Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General and the State of Florida, and the Florida Supreme Court Case number is “SC13-9999.” This was filed as a class action, with 166 Florida death-sentenced prisoners specifically named as the Petitioners (including myself). In actuality, this action represents all Florida death-sentenced prisoners, including many who would not be immediately affected by this new law as they have not yet completed their “first round” of both state and federal appeals or been provided the pathetically useless “clemency” review (no Florida death row prisoner has been actually granted clemency in well over 25 years).
This legal action is titled “Emergency Petition To Invoke This Court’s All Writs Jurisdiction, To Declare Unconstitutional Provisions Of The Timely Justice Act Of 2013, And For Immediate Temporary Injunctive Relief.” In addition to be represented by the politically appointed directors of the state-funded law offices responsible for providing post-conviction representation to hundreds of death-sentenced prisoners, private practitioners Martin J. McClain, Linda McDermott, and Terri Backhus, who also represent numerous death-sentenced prisoners, have signed on. For those unfamiliar with the Florida system, these are some of the most experienced and competent lawyers in capital post-conviction law. So it goes without saying that this legal challenge is well represented by a group of lawyers who have unquestionably proven their commitment to the cause over many years. ‘Marty’ McClain and Linda McDermott are considered by many as the best capital post-conviction lawyers practicing in Florida today.
What is at issue is whether the Florida legislature has the constitutional authority to implement statutory provisions effectively mandating that the Florida Governor “shall” sign death warrants within 30 days of capital cases certified by the Florida Supreme Court as having completed the first round of state and federal appeals. And upon signing such death warrants, each execution shall be scheduled within 180 days.
Under both the Florida and the Federal Constitution, known as the “Separation of Powers” clause, one branch of government cannot encroach upon another branch of government by ordering how to perform its duties. At both the state and federal levels there are 3 branches of government; (1) Legislative, (2) Executive, and (3) Judicial. The legislative branch passes new laws, which the Executive branch (the state governor or president) must then either sign into law or veto. Then as a means of safeguarding against political tyranny that might otherwise threaten the integrity of our constitutional democracy, if the newly created laws conflict with a fundamental constitutional right or provision, then interested parties are entitled to challenge the constitutional validity of these new laws in the Judicial branch by filing a “petition” such as what has now been filed.
To illustrate how this system of balances and checks is designed to work, shortly after Jeb Bush (younger brother of then President George W. Bush) won election as governor of Florida, he pushed through new laws in a joint effort with the Florida legislature that would have adopted the Texas death penalty appeal process to Florida. Its intent (like this recently passed “Timely Justice Act”) was to significantly limit the appeals death-sentenced prisoners could pursue, so that they could be executed that much quicker, even if they were innocent.
But this “Death Penalty Reform Act of 2000” was challenged before it could be implemented under the argument that under the Florida constitution, only the Florida Supreme Court (judicial branch) could create rules governing appellate procedures. So the Florida legislature’s (and Governor Jeb Bush’s) attempt to pass laws limiting post-conviction appellate review was unconstitutional because it violated the ‘separation of powers’ clause of the Florida Constitution. In the subsequent ruling in Allen v. Butterworth, 756 So. 2d. 52 (Fla. 2000) the Florida Supreme Court agreed and declared the “Death Penalty Reform Act of 2000” to be an unconstitutional attempt to encroach upon the judicial branch powers.
But just like their counterparts in Texas, Florida’s pro-death penalty Republicans do not give up so easily and they will zealously seek more and more executions despite empirical evidence that innocent people are being wrongfully convicted, condemned, and even put to death.
So, when the Florida Supreme Court declared the “Death Penalty Reform Act of 2000” to be unconstitutional, the Florida Republicans decided it was time to impose a political coup on the Florida Supreme Court by stacking the Court with their own hand-picked pro-death penalty justices. It came as no surprise when Florida Governor (then a Republican, but since ostracized by the Florida Republican party) Charlie Crist politically appointed none other than Charles Canady and Andrews Polston to the Florida Supreme Court. Both Canady and Polston were Jeb Bush insiders, who were personally involved in attempting to push through the “Death Penalty Reform Act of 2000.” The deliberate appointment of both Canady and Polston served only one purpose – to take political control of the Florida Supreme Court so these rabid republicans can force their new laws through and turn Florida into a killing machine.
Additionally, the Republican party gained complete control of both the Florida House of Representatives and Florida Senate, which controls the budget, and made it very clear to the Florida Supreme Court that if they continued to stand in their way, the Florida Supreme Court’s budget would be substantially reduced, effectively holding the Florida Supreme Court hostage to their own political will.
It then came as no surprise when, during this past legislative session, Florida republicans pushed through the “Timely Justice Act” to once again attempt to adopt the Texas post-conviction appeal process as a means in which to speed up executions.
This latest attempt to exert legislative control over the rule-making function of the Florida Supreme Court is clearly unconstitutional for the same reasons as the “Death Penalty Reform Act of 2000”, as recognized in Allen v. Butterworth, 756 So. 2d 52 (Fla. 2000). But this time, the politically stacked Florida Supreme Court is reluctant to intervene for fear of political retribution.
In a recent administrative order (not published), the Florida Supreme Court ordered the State of Florida to respond to the comprehensive legal challenge to these new laws. But upon careful reading of that order, one will notice that the Florida Supreme Court specifically instructed the State of Florida to address the question of whether the court even had jurisdiction to review the legality of this new law. The state’s response must be filed by July 18, 2013 and our reply is to be filed by July 29, 2013. After the reply is filed, the court should schedule oral arguments within the following month, which can be viewed in their entirely on the internet, both ‘live’ and recorded, at www.gavel2gavel.com (Case No. SC13-9999, Abdool v. PamBondi).
The reason the wording of this order is so troubling is that by questioning whether the Florida Supreme Court has ‘jurisdiction’ to review the legality of the “Timely Justice Act”, it’s become clear that some of the 7 justices are already attempting to obstruct review by asserting the court does not have jurisdiction. There’s absolutely NO doubt that both Chief Justice Andrew Polston and his pro-death penalty colleague, Justice Charles Canady are aggressively playing back door politics, questioning the court’s jurisdiction as a means of attempting to prevent the other 5 justices on the Florida Supreme Court from using majority vote to declare this new Timely Justice Act unconstitutional as they previously did in Allen v. Butterworth.
Bottom line, the lawyers representing Florida’s death-sentenced prisoners did file a comprehensive and competent petition challenging this newly created “Timely Justice Act” that should win. But because of the political corruption of the Florida Supreme Court, the court may not even accept review by disingenuously finding they don’t have jurisdiction. If this new law is not declared invalid, then Florida will soon proceed to sign death warrants within 180 days. Not even Texas has attempted to kill as many so quickly. But Florida is determined to turn the state into the leader of state-sanctioned executions. All we can do is wait and see.
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Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
As some of you who regularly follow my blog already know, on Thursday June 27, 2013 the Florida Supreme Court finally ruled on my long pending new evidence/innocence appeal, and unanimously denied the appeal in a “per curium” opinion. Considering it took the court almost 3 years to finally decide this case, the denial was a surprise – but even more surprising was the hostility reflected in the ruling. Instead of giving adequate review of the state’s own deliberate prosecutorial misconduct, as even the state conceded that the prosecutor had intentionally concealed numerous state crime lab files containing crucial evidence that would have undoubtedly undermined the credibility of the state’s key witness, the Florida Supreme Court instead chose to vent their unjustified hostility towards any “secondary” post conviction appeals.
Perhaps in a better world we would like to think that those appointed to our highest courts would have the moral character and professional integrity to rise above their own obvious prejudices and rule according to the law. But as the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, paraphrasing, those who spend their whole lives fighting monsters should not so much fear the monster, but instead fear becoming the monster. I truly doubt those on the Florida Supreme Court can even see the evil boiling within them, and blinded by their own distorted sense of “moral justification” they probably even think they are doing the right thing when they respond with such hostility towards legitimate claims of innocence and knowingly send innocent men and women to their death under the pretense of administering justice.
But the irony of their actions is that this decision strays so far and contrary to well established law that it could be argued that by ruling as they did, the Florida Supreme Court actually may have done me a favor.
Here’s what is at issue. The main claim in this appeal was that the prosecutor who originally tried this case deliberately concealed numerous state crime lab records back in 1983 that contained irrefutable evidence that the state crime lab found numerous hairs on the alleged “murder weapon” that did not match either the victim, or me, but were consistent with those of the state’s key witness, Frances Smith.
In 2009 an independent researcher found these state crime lab files concealed at a state records repository in boxes from the State Attorney’s office. This researcher then turned these file folders over to my lawyers, who immediately recognized that this was a major violation of long established Federal constitutional law.
In a nutshell, it has long been established that prosecutors are constitutionally required to disclose all favorable evidence to the defendant. Yet consistently we see that prosecutors deliberately violate this law and hide favorable evidence, hoping it will never be discovered – and only god knows how much is not discovered! This type of deliberate prosecutor misconduct is responsible for a greater percentage of wrongful convictions in death penalty cases than any other cause – and Florida by far leads the country in the number of such wrongful convictions in capital cases!
Apparently embarrassed by their record number of wrongful convictions, the Florida courts have now decided they will just ignore such deliberate prosecutorial misconduct – even if it means sending an innocent man to his death. For example, in James Guzman v. State of Florida, 721 So. 2d. 1155 (Fla. 1998) the Florida Supreme Court addressed a similar case in which irrefutable evidence showed the prosecutor deliberately concealed evidence that would have impeached the credibility of the state’s key witness – if the Florida Supreme Court had it their way, Guzman would have been put to death. But the Florida court’s denial was so contrary to applicable Federal law that the Federal courts subsequently intervened, specifically finding the Florida Supreme Court’s denial of a new trial “unreasonable” and “clearly contrary to established Federal law,” and on October 27, 2011 the Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit, vacated Guzman’s capital convictions and ordered a new trial.
Similarly, on January 20, 2012, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Juan Smith v. Burl Cain, U.S. Sct Case No. 10-8145. Like in Guzman, the death sentenced petitioner (Juan Smith) was denied relief by the state courts on a claim that the prosecutor had deliberately concealed evidence that could have been used to undermine the credibility of the state’s key witness. In a cursory opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts, which even conservative pro death penalty justices Scalia and Alito joined, the Supreme Court found that the state courts denial of this claim was unreasonable and contrary to clearly established federal law, and threw out all five capital convictions and sentences of death imposed on Juan Smith…only Justice Clarence Thomas disagreed.
For that reason, being familiar with applicable law, when I learned of how the Florida Supreme Court had denied my appeal in an extremely hostile opinion focused more on unethically attacking me and my legal counsel than on the substantial issue presented, instead of being upset, I smiled, as I knew immediately that they actually did me a favor – and their denial of relief actually will now significantly improve the likelihood that either the U.S. Supreme Court or Federal Court will now throw out my convictions in their entirety – and set the stage for my release, although it will now take longer.
Here’s how the case will now proceed…once the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling is “final” (after rehearing is denied), my lawyers will now take the case directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, and argue that as in Smith v. Cain (2012), the state court’s cursory denial of this substantial Federal claim must be summarily thrown out in their entirety. And in light of Smith v. Cain, there’s a very good chance that the U.S. Supreme Court will now do just that.
But assuming for the moment that the Supreme Court declines review, thanks to the Florida court’s refusal to allow a full evidentiary hearing on this issue, I will now be entitled to a full new Federal appeal, which will also now allow me to specifically argue “fundamental miscarriage of justice/actual innocence” – meaning that this will now open the door to allowing me to present all the evidence supporting my consistently pled claim of actual innocence.
Although it sucks that the Florida Supreme Court has once again shown that they lack the moral character and integrity to follow long established constitutional law – which obviously contributes to why Florida leads the country in wrongful convictions in capital cases – the truth is that upon realizing just how extremely outside applicable law this ruling was, I almost felt compelled to give the Florida Supreme Court justices a big hug and heartfelt thanks. And I can’t help but wonder if the Florida Supreme Court justices actually knew what they were doing as they obviously are aware of the decisions in Smith v. Cain and Guzman v. Sect., FDOC, and either just didn’t care what the Federal Courts think – or this is their way of saying that although they don’t have the courage or integrity to do the right thing by ruling as they did, they knowingly set the state for what they know will almost certainly now result in Federal Courts throwing out my convictions and result in my own exoneration and release.
I realize that many who do care about me and have followed my case are probably upset about this seemingly awful ruling – but I write this to tell you that although the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling was unreasonably hostile and reflects just how completely corrupted the Florida Supreme Court has become by the “politics of death” – and why there can be no doubt that they are only too willing to put innocent people to death – this really was not that bad of a ruling as they all but guaranteed that I will now receive full Federal review and almost certainly will now have my convictions vacated by the Federal Courts.
Michael Lambrix # 482053
Union Correctional Institution
7819 NW 228th street
Raiford, Florida 32026