Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Point of View; Independent Judiciary Threatened

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Point of View; Independent Judiciary Threatened

Article excerpt

Byline: Harry Shorstein

Recently, the state attorney for the Ninth Judicial District, Aramis Ayala, announced she would not be seeking a death sentence for Markeith Loyd, and would instead pursue a punishment of life in prison without parole.

She said she had made this decision after a thorough review of the details in the case and after evaluating the efficacy of the death penalty as a whole. Gov. Rick Scott announced he was removing her from the case and was reassigning it to another state attorney.

If the case had landed on my desk while I was serving as the state attorney for the Fourth Judicial District, I may have come to a different conclusion about whether to seek death. However, what is clear is that Scott's decision threatens prosecutorial independence and sets a dangerous precedent.

For that reason I joined three dozen current and former judges and prosecutors, including former chief justices of the Florida Supreme Court Harry Lee Anstead and Gerald Kogan, and nearly 100 law professors in signing a letter asking Scott to reverse his decision.

Loyd is charged with murdering his pregnant girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and Officer Debra Clayton.

However, an independently elected state attorney, such as Ayala, has the discretion to seek a sentence of life in prison without parole for Loyd if she believes it is the appropriate punishment.

In this case, Ayala had the support of Dixon's parents, who have said they don't want to be dragged back to court for decades of appeals.

Dixon's parents indicated they support seeking a life without parole sentence, which ensures that Loyd will die in prison, if convicted.

State attorneys have extremely broad discretion to decide how to prosecute cases. In fact, our state's criminal justice system is premised on the independence of prosecutors and their sole responsibility to enforce criminal laws in the state. It is very common for state attorneys to create officewide policies regarding how they will charge crimes. …

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