Vexed Sotomayor Dissents in Florida Death-Penalty Cases

WASHINGTON (CN) – Quoting 19th century French literary criticism, Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke out Monday after the Supreme Court rejected appeals by two men on death row in Florida.

“Everything has been said already; but as no one listens, we must always begin again,” the footnote states, citing Andre Gide’s 1892 literary criticism “Le traité du Narcisse: Theorie du symbole” (The Treatise of Narcissus: Theory of the Symbol).

Sotomayor looked to the Nobel prize winner this morning after her colleagues rejected petitions for certiorari from death-row inmates Jesse Guardado and Steven Cozzie.

“It should not be necessary for me to explain again why petitioners’ challenges are substantial, why the Florida Supreme Court should have addressed those challenges, or why this court has an obligation to intervene,” Sotomayor wrote. “Nevertheless, recent developments at the Florida Supreme Court compel me to dissent in full once again.”

Sotomayor explained that the cases here are covered by the 2016 ruling Hurst v. Florida, which found it unconstitutional to order capital punishment in cases where juries were given merely an advisory role in the sentencing.

Such schemes contravene the Eighth Amendment, Sotomayor wrote, because the high court emphasized in the 1985 ruling Caldwell v. Mississippi that “the uncorrected suggestion that the responsibility for any ultimate determination of death will rest with others presents an intolerable danger that the jury will in fact choose to minimize the importance of its role.”

“Twice now this court has declined to vacate and remand to the Florida Supreme Court in cases where that court failed to address a substantial Eighth Amendment challenge to capital defendants’ sentences, and twice I have dissented from that inaction,” Sotomayor wrote.

Terence Oliver and Quentin Truehill were involved in one of those cases last year, and earlier this year the court rejected appeals by Dale Middleton and Randy Tundidor.

“Today we add two more to the list, for a total of at least six capital defendants who now face execution by the state without having received full consideration of their claims,” Sotomayor wrote.

The dissent concludes: “The Florida Supreme Court has (again) failed to address an important and substantial Eighth Amendment challenge to capital defendants’ sentences post-Hurst. Nothing in its pre-Hurst precedent, nor in its opinions in Truehill and Oliver, addresses or resolves these substantial Caldwell-based challenges. This court can and should intervene in the face of this troubling situation.” (Parentheses in original.)

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