Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Florida Supreme Court
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In this advisory opinion, the Supreme Court answered a question asked by Governor Ron DeSantis regarding the interpretation of a portion of the Florida Constitution affecting his executive powers and duties by stating that it is in the Court's opinion that the phrase "all terms of sentence," as used in article VI, section 4, has an ordinary meaning that the voters would have understood to refer not only to durational periods but also to all legal financial obligations (LFOs) imposed in conjunction with an adjudication of guilt. Specifically, the Governor requested advice regarding the meaning of language added to Fla. Const. art. VI, 4 by the approval of an initiative petition, commonly referred to as Amendment 4, that restored the voting rights of certain convicted felons "upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation." The Supreme Court answered that the phrase "all terms of sentence" encompasses not just durational periods but also all LFOs - fines, restitution, costs, and fees - imposed in conjunction with an adjudication of guilt. View "Advisory Opinion to Governor re Implementation of Amendment 4, The Voting Restoration Amendment" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Appellant's third amended motion to vacate his conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death filed pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851 and denied Appellant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that Appellant was not entitled to relief. Appellant was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. This appeal concerned Appellant's second amended motion for postconviction relief. The postconviction court noted that Appellant was entitled to a new penalty phase pursuant to Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016) but denied the guilt-phase claims. The majority of the claims presented in Appellant's appeal alleged ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The Supreme Court denied the claims and affirmed the order of the postconviction court. The Court also denied Appellant's petition for writ of habeas corpus, holding that Appellant's claim that comments made by the prosecutor tapped into racial stereotypes was procedurally barred and that Appellant's claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel also failed. View "Martin v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court rendered this advisory opinion to address the issue of the validity of a citizen initiative petition circulated pursuant to Fla. Const. art. XI, 3, concluding that the proposed initiative should not be placed on the ballot. The initiative at issue was sponsored by Citizens for Energy Choices and titled "Right to Competitive Energy Market for Customers of Investor-Owned Utilities; Allowing Energy Choice." In opposing the initiative, the Attorney General argued that the ballot title and summary failed adequately to inform the voters of "the true meaning and ramifications of the proposed amendment." Specifically at issue was whether the ballot summary affirmatively misled voters to believe that the initiative grants a right to sell electricity. The Supreme Court concluded that the ballot summary was affirmatively misleading and thus did not comply with Fla. Stat. 101.161(1). View "Advisory Opinion to the Attorney General re Right to Competitive Energy Market for Customers of Investor-Owned Utilities; Allowing Energy Choice" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruling that a peremptory strike was constitutionally impermissible because it was based on the prospective juror's religion, holding that the issue of the constitutionality of a religion-based strike was not properly preserved in the trial court and that the district court erred in reversing on the basis of an unpreserved argument. The district court concluded that the trial court erred in allowing the peremptory strike of the prospective juror at issue, basing its decision in part on its conclusion that the strike involved an unconstitutional religious test. The Supreme Court quashed the decision below, holding that Defendant's religion-based objection to the strike was not properly preserved. View "State v. Pacchiana" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court approved a proposed amendment titled "Raising Florida's Minimum Wage" for placement on the ballot but refused to review a financial impact statement prepared by the Financial Impact Estimating Conference (FIEC), holding that this Court lacked jurisdiction to do so. The Attorney General of Florida petitioned the Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on the validity of a proposed citizen initiative amendment to the Florida Constitution requesting review of the compliance of the proposed amendment with constitutional and statutory requirements. The Attorney General further requested an opinion addressing the compliance of the corresponding financial impact statement with Fla. Stat. 100.371. The Supreme Court held (1) the initiative petition and proposed ballot title and summary for the proposed amendment met the legal requirements of Fla. Const. art. XI, 3 and Fla. Stat. 101.161(1); and (2) this Court does not have original jurisdiction to review financial impact statements. View "Advisory Opinion to the Attorney General Re Raising Florida's Minimum Wage" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the denial of Sparre's postconviction motion to vacate his conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death filed under Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851 and denied his petition for writ of habeas corpus, holding that Sparre was not entitled to relief. As to Sparre's appeal from the denial of his postconviction motion, the Supreme Court held (1) trial counsel was not ineffective, despite two instances in which counsel was deficient; (2) the trial court properly denied Sparre's claim that the cumulative effect of trial counsel's errors entitled him to relief; and (3) Sparre's claims that the postconviction court erred in three other respects were without merit. As to Sparre's habeas petition, the Court held that Sparre was not entitled to relief on his claims of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. View "Sparre v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court denying Defendant relief from his conviction and denied Defendant's habeas conviction, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief. Defendant was found guilty of first-degree felony murder and robbery with a firearm or other deadly weapon. Defendant later moved for postconviction relief. The trial court vacated Defendant's death sentence and ordered a new penalty phase pursuant to Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016). Defendant appealed the denial of his guilt phase claims and petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus. In the appeal from the postconviction motion, the Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error. The Court then denied habeas relief, holding that appellate counsel was not ineffective on direct appeal. View "Jordan v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court declined to answer a question certified by the Fourth District Court of Appeal regarding whether, under the Fourth Amendment, a warrantless blood draw of an unconscious person incapable of giving consent may be pursuant to Fla. Stat. 316.1932(1)(c) so that the unconscious person can be said to have "consented" to the blood draw, holding that this case fell squarely within the rule announced in Mitchell v. Wisconsin, 139 S. Ct. 2525 (2019). The Wisconsin Supreme Court analyzed the Fourth Amendment issue using the "consent" framework of the statute. During the pendency of this appeal the United States Supreme Court considered a materially indistinguishable issue relating to a similar Wisconsin statute and vacated the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision. The Supreme Court declined to address the certified question as framed, applied Mitchell, vacated the Fourth District's decision, and remanded, holding that because this case fell within the rule announced in Mitchell, the warrantless blood draw was legal. View "McGraw v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying John Mack Sketo Calhoun's motion to vacate his conviction of first-degree murder filed under Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851 and denied Calhoun's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that Calhoun was not entitled to relief. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) as to Calhoun's postconviction appeal, the circuit court properly denied relief as to Calhoun's newly discovered evidence claim, trial counsel was not ineffective during the guilt phase, and none of Calhoun's remaining claims warranted relief; and (2) as to Calhoun's habeas petition, Calhoun failed to demonstrate that appellate counsel was ineffective on direct appeal. View "Calhoun v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's summary denial of Appellant's second successive motion for postconviction relief, holding that the petition was both untimely and procedurally barred. Appellant was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Several years later, Appellant filed his second successive motion for postconviction relief under Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851, arguing that, in Buck v. Davis, 137 S. Ct. 759 (2017), the United States Supreme Court established a new fundamental constitutional right that the injection of racial bias and prejudice into a criminal trial constitutes per se ineffective assistance of counsel. Further, Appellant argued that this right applies to convictions and sentences, like his, that became final before Buck. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) Appellant's motion was untimely because Buck did not establish a new right; and (2) because this Court previously addressed the arguments at issue and held that they did not warrant relief Appellant's motion was procedurally barred. View "Bell v. State" on Justia Law