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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