Florida Prosecutor Won’t Seek Death Penalty, Governor Yanks Her Cases
Republican Governor Rick Scott of Florida used an executive order on Monday to remove the first black elected prosecutor in the state, Orange County State Attorney Aramis Ayala, from 21 murder cases. The conflict between Ayala and Scott started last month after Ayala, a Democrat, announced that she wouldn’t be seeking the death penalty in a murder case. Scott reacted by taking the case, in which a man is accused of killing a pregnant woman and a police officer, away from Ayala.
Scott called the decision “unacceptable,” and said “that she is not interested in considering every available option in the fight for justice.” According to Ayala’s spokesperson Eryka Washington, she didn’t know about the reassignments until they were reported in the media. Washington said that Ayala believes Scott is abusing his authority and “has compromised the independence and integrity of the criminal justice system.”
The news created a lot of mixed feelings on social media, with a lot of people criticizing the governor for overreach.
does an elected prosecutor have right to decide against seeking death? – ongoing legal battle worth following in FL https://t.co/9pLaX7yYJQ
— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) April 3, 2017
Many also pointed out concerns about the death penalty:
Thank you to Aramis Ayala. The death penalty is an ineffective deterrent, racially discriminatory and morally wrong. https://t.co/LiFtodFqat
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) April 4, 2017
Also on Monday, State Representative Bob Cortes urged Scott to go even further and remove Ayala from office. He argued that she is trying to change the law–he said that “she is elected there to follow it,” and not change it. He claimed that Ayala is neglecting her responsibility to those who elected her by not considering the death penalty. According to the Florida state constitution, a governor can remove any elected official who isn’t fulfilling her duty.
But it’s hard to determine whether or not she is fulfilling her duty, given that prosecutorial discretion allows Ayala to decide how to best pursue her cases. And it’s worth noting that opinions on the death penalty differ in the United States. Research has repeatedly shown that it’s not effective in deterring people from committing crimes. There is also the risk of executing an innocent person, and examples of botched executions where the prisoner doesn’t die right away but has to endure a slow, torturous death. The drugs that are used are increasingly expensive and hard to access, as many medical companies don’t want to contribute to executing people. And the trials where prosecutors seek the death penalty involve an additional phase for sentencing, which makes the whole ordeal more expensive than a regular trial.
Back in March, when Ayala made it clear that she wouldn’t be seeking the death penalty for the rest of her term, she also mentioned the downside of instilling hope in victims’ families about an execution that might take months or years before being carried out–if ever. “I have determined that doing so is not in the best interests of this community or in the best interests of justice,” she said.