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Competent to face death

So, we learned today the mystery surrounding Saturday’s sudden court recess in the State v. Casey Anthony trial.

Casey Anthony’s team of defense attorneys determined that, lo and behold, after three years of hearings and one month of trial proceedings, Casey Anthony was not competent to stand trial.

And we thought it was the defense team who were the incompetent ones!

Why all of a sudden is Casey Anthony not competent?  No one saw this one coming!

I agree with Bill Shaeffer, my favorite Orlando Attorney, who said it could be that Casey is asking to testify in her own defense, and the lawyers are advising her not to. The defense undoubtedly knows it would be a disaster if she were to take the stand, is this the reason she’s suddenly incompetent?

Three independent psychologists examined Casey Anthony this weekend.  Their reports were submitted to Judge Perry who found that Casey is indeed competent to stand trial.

As I wrote yesterday, the defense is damned if they do and damned if they don’t ask Casey to testify.  She is the only person who can bring the molestation claims against her brother and her father into the trial; and she is also the only one who will be able to testify to the drowning claims.

It’s likely that the defense, in particular Cheney Mason who filed the motion to determine competence, wants a CYA (cover-yer-arse), type of record.  They likely want to be certain that appellate courts will see that the defense would not recommend she take the stand.

Or, perhaps it’s the other way around?  Does the defense want her to take the stand and she refuses, hence she’s crazy?!

Just like this weekend’s speculation – this is my best guess today (Bill Shaeffer agrees, so I’m in good company!)

The Issue of the Death Penalty

Attorney Ann Finnell was in court today.  The jury hadn’t seen her since their voir dire in Clearwater.

She has a smooth style, and her succinct questioning of witnesses is excellent.  It was nice to see a competent attorney on the defense side of the aisle.

Ann Finnell also made some news today as she recently filed a motion asking the court to declare the Florida Statute on the death penalty unconstitutional.

This motion is filed on the heels of a recent decision by a federal judge in Miami.

On June 22, 2011, Judge Jose Martinez, ruled that Florida’s sentencing of the death penalty is unconstitutional.

The reason?  Because currently juries take into account particular aggravating factors in their decisions regarding the death penalty, but jurors do not record which factor they weighed above others – which factors they may have agreed upon (if there are multiple factors), and which they did not agree upon.  Therefore, no one is made aware of the details of their decisions.

The recent ruling also finds troubling the fact that in death penalty trials, the decision to vote for the death penalty does not have to be unanimous.

At this time, during sentencing, only the Judge has to provide opinions surrounding the aggravating factors.

The view of people in the legal community say this ruling will not end the death penalty in Florida, but it WILL be argued anew as a result of this recent decision.

According to the Miami Herald, reporter David Ovalle writes:

The ruling, likely to be argued in appellate courts for years, does not strike down Florida’s capital-punishment law. But it could force lawmakers to change the statute, and could give recent convicts new avenues for appeal, legal experts say.

Read the Miami Herald article.

Currently, Florida courts allow jurors to make death penalty recommendations that are not unanimous decisions.

A twelve panel jury only requires a majority vote.  It also does not require jurors to record which aggravating factor encouraged their individual decisions.  Therefore, it is unknown if all jurors in the majority would have agreed unanimously on specific aggravators.

In addition, trial judges, such as Judge Belvin Perry, have the authority to override the decision of the jurors, whether they decide for or against the death penalty. In other words, if the jury decides the defendant should be sentenced to death, the trial judge can sentence life. Conversely, if the jurors decide life in prison is their recommendation, the judge can overrule them and sentence the defendant to death.

Furthermore, the argument used in Judge Martinez’ ruling, explains that if both the jurors and the trial judge vote for death for the defendant, there is no way to know which aggravating or mitigating factors were relied on by either the judge or the jury.

Judge Martinez determined the death penalty unconstitutional because of these very facts.  The case in which his decisions were decided is the case of a defendant named Paul H. Evans.  Evans was convicted and sentenced to death in 1991, for his actions in a murder-for-hire case.

An Assistant Public Defender in Miami, discussing the death penalty, remarked that it was ironic that it takes a majority vote to send a defendant to jail for life, but only a majority of jurors to sentence a defendant to death.

Today, Ann E. Finnell, attorney representing Casey Anthony, filed a motion stating that the decision by Federal Judge Martinez, makes the death penalty in the Casey Anthony case unconstitutional.  She also wants a new trial with a new jury.  It is highly doubtful the Judge will decide in favor of this motion.  I have every reason to believe that Judge Perry has already thought long and hard about the implications of this recent decision as it relates to the Anthony trial.

Regardless, I do hope the death penalty aspect of this motion prevails.

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