A recent decision by the Florida Supreme Court to uphold the death penalty sentence of a man convicted for the kidnapping and rape of a child in Sarasota illustrates some of the considerations that can occur in the appeals process following a criminal conviction.
The case at hand represented the second time that the Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by the convicted murderer. His first appeal was defeated in 2009. This more recent appeal raised multiple legal issues challenging the death sentence, including whether lethal injection constitutes a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment and whether using the forensic results of lab technicians who did not themselves testify was a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses.
The court rejected both of these arguments on appeal, as well as all of the others raised by the convicted man’s attorney.
The appellant had also argued that after his conviction his lawyer should have been allowed to conduct interviews of jurors in attempts to identify possible misconduct during the trial. The Supreme Court dismissed this argument as being tantamount to seeking authorization for defense counsel to perform a post-trial “fishing expedition” even when no factual allegations of juror misconduct had been alleged.
Despite losing the second appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, the attorney for the appellant has indicated that he will continue to make appeals — this time at the federal level.
The selection of defense counsel in is a key consideration for anyone accused of a criminal charge. Issues and arguments raised or not raised during trial can be decisive not only in the outcome of the trial itself, but also in the success of any appeal or appeals of a conviction.
The system of justice is designed to go to considerable lengths to avoid a wrongful criminal conviction, but it is essential that arguments made to appeal a conviction be well-reasoned and carefully argued to maximize their chances of success.
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, “Florida Supreme Court upholds Joseph Smith’s death sentence,” Lloyd Dunkelberger, Sept. 11, 2014