Should Marsy’s Law be Applied to Capital Cases?

October 3, 2023 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

Almost five years after Floridians voted in favor of applying Marsy’s Law to criminal cases to protect the rights of victims, the Florida Supreme Court has been urged to apply the measure with death row inmates. The specific purpose is to make it more difficult for inmates facing the possibility of capital punishment to get a stay of execution.

Attorney General Ashley Moody has sent documentation to the State’s Supreme Court regarding the request made by a Florida death row inmate with an upcoming execution. Moody is urging the Court to deny the request for a stay of execution, along with creating new standards for determining whether to grant a stay of execution after a death warrant has already been signed.

This page will cover the basics of Marsy’s Law, the request sent by General Moody’s Office, as well as the resulting opposition to Moody’s document. 

Marsy’s Law

Marsy’s Law was first passed in California in 2008. The initiative was created to protect the rights of victims in criminal cases, after University of California Santa Barbarba student Marsalee (Marsy) Ann Nicholas was stalked and killed by an ex-boyfriend. The law passed in Florida in an overwhelming vote in 2018.

For victims in Florida, Marsy’s Law provides them with the following rights during criminal procedures:

  • The right to an attorney;
  • The right to receive information pertaining to the law;
  • The right to due process;
  • The right to fairness, respect, and dignity during criminal proceedings;
  • The right to be reasonably protected from the accused and anyone acting on their behalf;
  • The right to a notice of release or escape of the defendant; and
  • The right to proceedings free of unreasonable delay.

To find out more about Mary’s Law and the protections under it, read our page here.

Attorney General Ashley Moody’s Argument for New Standards

In response to the Michael Duane Zack case, Attorney General Ashley Moody has filed a document with the Florida Supreme Court in an attempt to have Marsy’s Law used to make it harder for death row inmates to receive a stay of execution.

A stay of execution is used in legal proceedings to limit the effect of an order or stop the execution of a judgement. The Florida Bar explains that trial courts have a wide discretion in whether to grant or deny a stay and what conditions to put on a stay. When a defendant has been sentenced to death via capital punishment, a stay of execution of the death sentence can only occur through the Governor or through incident of an appeal.

Moody’s office is arguing that the Supreme Court should reject the motion filed by Zack’s team for a stay of execution. As we’ve previously covered, Zack’s defense team claims his case should be shielded from execution due to being a victim of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Yet Zack has had numerous appeals turned down over the last two decades, including appeals claiming he was intellectually disabled.

In Moody’s document, the Attorney General’s Office is requesting that the Florida Supreme Court deny the stayunder the current legal standard. Moody further pushed the Court to apply tougher standards for capital cases due to Marsy’s Law. The specific focus of Moody’s document was the law’s amendment guaranteeing victim’s “right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay, and to a prompt and final conclusion of the case and any related post-judgement proceedings.”

Additionally, Moody proposed that the Florida Supreme Court set new standards that would require an inmate seeking a stay to show proof that any argument aimed at blocking the inmate’s execution could not have been made earlier. The Office’s goal is for justices to “announce this rule now and ensure capital defendants and their counsel across Florida are aware they cannot wait until a warrant is signed to employ extraordinary efforts and expect a stay.”

The following is a statement from Moody’s response to the Florida Supreme Court:

“This [Marsy’s Law] right should be protected by a threshold analysis of whether the defendant’s claim could have been brought before a death warrant was signed. If the claim could have been brought earlier, then a stay should be automatically denied. The victims’ constitutional rights to ‘prompt’ finality and freedom from ‘unreasonable delay’ demands no less.”

Arguments Against the State’s Approach

Not everyone is on board with Moody’s argument on Marsy’s law. Maria DeLiberato, the executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, claimed that the proposed approach is a “stretch,” indicating that there are procedural rules that already exist regarding appeals, which includes safeguards related to stays.

Under Florida Statute Section 922.06, an execution of the death sentence that is stayed incident to an appeal shall receive a new date of execution, set by the Governor, within 10 days of the Attorney General’s certification that the stay has been lifted or dissolved.

“It’s the last opportunity for any claims to be raised to make sure that Florida is executing the most aggravated and least-mitigated, quote-unquote, the worst of the worst,” said DeLiberato.

Consult with a Tallahassee Defense Attorney

Facing criminal prosecution is already a stressful experience. For those who have been accused of crimes where the possible sentencing includes death, the case should not be taken lightly. Florida’s becoming more and more tough in capital cases, which has been shown through the increase of executions in 2023 alone.

With new legislations including SB 450 and HB 1297, Florida lawmakers seem intent on creating even harsher penalties for convicted persons. This is why finding a knowledgeable and experienced defense attorney is arguably the most important aspect of a criminal case.

You want a Florida criminal defense attorney on your side who can accurately analyze your case details, formulate possible defense strategies, and work as a ‘wolf in the courtroom’ to fight the charges against you. At Pumphrey Law Firm, our attorneys provide their clients with legal insight and guidance, all while ensuring their rights are protected. To receive a free consultation, call our office today at (850) 681-7777 or leave us a message online.

Written by Karissa Key

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