Criminal justice

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is getting sued by a state attorney for taking her off death penalty cases

Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala filed a lawsuit in federal court against Gov. Rick Scott Tuesday, asking that she be reinstated in 23 murder cases that Scott took from her control after she said in March that she would not pursue the death penalty.

The complaint says Scott, along with State Attorney Brad King, who is now handling the 23 cases, “deprived the voters of Ayala’s jurisdiction of the benefit of their votes — and violated Ayala’s constitutional rights — when they assumed the authority to veto the prosecutorial discretion of an independent elected official.”

Ayala became the first black state attorney in Florida history after she was elected in November in Florida’s 9th district, which includes Orlando. King has been a Florida state attorney since 1989.

Ayala announced in a March 16 press conference that she would not pursue the death penalty for Markeith Loyd, a man accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend and a police officer. She then went on to say she would not be pursuing the death penalty indefinitely in any case, citing the toll the long, expensive process takes on victims’ families, and the lack of evidence that it improves public safety. Pursuing the death penalty, she said, is “not in the best interest of this community or the best interest of justice.”

That same day, Scott used an executive order removing Ayala from the Loyd murders and giving them to King. Scott did the same thing with 21 additional murders on April 3.

King told VICE News he hadn’t yet heard about the lawsuit [pdf embedded at the end of this story] and wouldn’t discuss his views on the death penalty. He said he believes Scott’s actions are legal and will hold up in court.

“Like everything else, [a prosecutor’s] discretion is not boundless,” he said. “We all have an obligation to faithfully execute the law of the state of Florida.”

King said he believes Scott chose him to replace Ayala because of geography and tenure. I’m the closest state attorney with the longest tenure in office,” he said.

The governor’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Ayala’s attorney Roy Austin, a former U.S. Justice Department deputy assistant attorney general, pointed out she did not make the decision to stop pursuing the death penalty until after she was elected and began her work as state attorney.

“What the governor has done here is unprecedented, illegal, and unconstitutional,” he said. “The law here is clear: The elected state attorney shall be the trier of cases in her district.”

King is pursuing the death penalty for Loyd. There is a hearing in that case Wednesday.


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