State Senator Randolph Bracy (D-Ocoee), with the support of Senate President Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton), is pleased to announce a partnership between the Florida Senate and Florida State University’s College of Criminology & Criminal Justice to analyze racial and ethnic impacts of proposed legislation. [Read more…] about Senator Randolph Bracy Paves Way for Consideration of Racial & Ethnic Impact Data in Florida Senate
Senator Randolph Bracy
Gov. Rick Scott of Florida overreached last month when he issued an executive order stripping a state attorney of her authority to prosecute a man charged with killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and an Orlando police officer. On Monday, he also removed her from 21 other murder cases.
Mr. Scott’s executive orders appear to be without precedent in Florida. They are meant to punish the state attorney, Aramis D. Ayala, Florida’s first black elected prosecutor, for announcing she would no longer seek the death penalty because it was not in the best interest of her jurisdiction, which stretches from Orlando to Kissimmee.
Ms. Ayala rightly argued that capital punishment does not deter crime, nor does it protect police officers. Instead, it often leads to protracted appeals, and rarely delivers closure to the victim’s family. “Punishment is most effective when it happens consistently and swiftly,” she said. “Neither describe the death penalty in this state.”
In retaliation, Governor Scott reassigned the cases to a prosecutor who will most likely seek executions.
This is not just a dispute over the death penalty. It’s also about the governor’s brazen lack of respect for prosecutorial independence, which is critical to the functioning of the legal system. Not only is it unclear whether the governor has the authority to make these reassignments, but in substituting his judgment for Ms. Ayala’s, he is also sending a dangerous message to prosecutors in Florida that politics will supersede their discretion.
The governor’s action also got ahead of the normal judicial process. Pre-emptively calling the death penalty “justice” wrongly presumes the defendants should be executed without consulting the families of the victims or considering any mitigating evidence about the accused.
Governor Scott must quickly reverse his executive orders. I do not say this lightly. I was appointed to lead the Florida Senate criminal justice committee, a rare privilege for a Democrat in the Republican-controlled legislature. I sponsored legislation, signed into law last month by Governor Scott, to require a unanimous jury vote for the death penalty, after the Florida and United States Supreme Courts last year struck down Florida’s capital punishment system as unconstitutional.
While I may not agree with Ms. Ayala’s decision to reject the death penalty in all cases, I strongly affirm her right to make that choice.
Florida prosecutors, like all prosecutors, have broad discretionary power. That was the central argument in a letter protesting the governor’s overreach, which was signed by more than 150 prosecutors, judges and law professors. “Florida’s entire criminal justice system is premised on the independence of prosecutors,” they wrote. Ms. Ayala “is solely empowered to make prosecutorial decisions for her circuit.”
Although Ms. Ayala’s critics have denounced her actions as dereliction of duty, they cannot point to a single law or statute that she has violated. That’s because she hasn’t. There are no federal or state laws that say prosecutors must seek death sentences. And the United States Supreme Court has banned all state laws that make executions mandatory for murders.
The governor‘s executive order also undercuts the will of the people who last fall elected Ms. Ayala to serve them. Moreover, a poll last year found that nearly two-thirds of Floridians prefer life imprisonment over the imposition of the death penalty. So do people who live in Central Florida, where her district is, 58 percent to 36 percent.
As a black man, I see the death penalty as a powerful symbol of injustice in which race often determines who lives and who dies, especially in Florida. The state has the second-largest number of death row inmates in the country, after California, and African-Americans are grossly overrepresented on Florida’s death row. This disproportionality was a driving force behind my bill. And while I felt that Florida was not ready to relinquish the death penalty, I tried to make it more fair.
Ms. Ayala’s arguments for rejecting the death penalty were compelling and well reasoned; they were drawn from the stark racial disparities in the criminal justice system that she confronts every day. Yet Ms. Ayala has always said that she would hold the guilty accountable, including, if he is convicted, the defendant in the first case from which she was removed, Markeith Loyd.
Understandably, the issue of how to punish people who kill police officers remains highly charged, especially among law enforcement officials. Many believe that the only proper resolution for the death of Lt. Debra Clayton, the Orlando police officer Mr. Loyd is accused of killing, is an eye for an eye. I get that.
But for others, including Stephanie Dixon-Daniels, the mother of Mr. Loyd’s slain ex-girlfriend, who has also experienced a devastating loss, Ms. Ayala’s sentencing choice made sense. The death penalty will continue “to drag us back in court and relive this violent, hideous act,” Ms. Dixon-Daniels said. Instead, she wants closure.
Ms. Ayala demonstrated leadership when she made her decision. “An analysis of the death penalty must be pragmatic,” Ms. Ayala concluded. “It must be realistic and not simply theoretical, impulsive or emotional.”
It’s disappointing that the governor abandoned the same dispassionate examination. It’s not justice Governor Scott is delivering by forcing the death penalty upon us all. It’s vengeance.
Randolph Bracy is the chairman of the Florida Senate criminal justice committee.
Notified this morning of the death of an Orlando police officer killed in the line of duty, and the ensuing manhunt for the alleged killer, state Senator Randolph Bracy (D-Orlando) issued the following statement:
“I condemn this violence and I will work hard as the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman to reform our laws, to make it harder for criminals to have access to high powered and illegal weapons in our communities. The alleged shooter in this case is linked to another murder in the area of Pine Hills at the end of last year, underlining the need for urgent changes to stop more bloodshed.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the family and colleagues of the slain Orlando Police Department officer involved in this tragic event.”