Florida Governor Rick Scott recently removed newly elected Orlando prosecutor Aramis Ayala from the Markeith Loyd case. Loyd is charged with two counts of First Degree Murder for shooting and killing police officer Lt. Debra Clayton and Loyd’s pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon. The case was re-assigned to state attorney Brad King, who prosecutes in neighboring Florida counties. Scott claims that the reason he removed Ayala is because she “won’t fight for justice.” He points to her comments concerning the death penalty as support for his extraordinary move. She allegedly stated that the death penalty causes too much pain for victims’ families and that it was not an effective deterrent. Additionally, she allegedly made it clear that not only wouldn’t she be seeking death for Loyd, but she wouldn’t be seeking the death penalty in any future case during her entire four years in office. Regarding seeking the death penalty in future cases, she stated, “I have determined that doing so is not in the best interest of the community or the best interest of justice.”
Scott initially attempted to get Ayala to recuse herself from the Loyd case. When she refused, he took the case away from her.
Let me start off by making it clear that I generally don’t like the idea of a governor or any politician attempting to dictate what a prosecutor should do with a criminal case. Politicians/legislators should stay in their executive branch doing what they do, which is, in large part, making the laws and kissing babies. It is up to the prosecutors in the judicial branch of government to enforce the laws as they deem appropriate.
In this particular case, I must depart from my generally held beliefs. I can’t support the prosecutor here. Had Ayala announced that she had chosen not to seek the death penalty in the Loyd case specifically, then I would have passionately defended her. My support for her position is not because I necessarily believe the death penalty is inappropriate for Loyd. Candidly, I haven’t even decided how I feel concerning his case. However, it’s always been the prosecutor’s right to decide which cases warrant the ultimate sanction. That’s certainly not a decision that should be made with influence from the pitch fork carrying public and/or elected politicians.
Additionally, as a result of a recent Supreme Court ruling, it just got a whole lot more challenging to secure a death sentence in court. The Supreme Court recently declared unconstitutional the manner in which courts were handling death penalty cases. Before the highest court’s ruling, jurors would vote and make a recommendation to the judge. So, for example, if 10 jurors voted for death and two voted for life, the judge would then use the recommendation to determine the appropriate sentence. After the recent high court’s ruling, jurors are required to be unanimous. That means that death cannot be imposed unless all 12 jurors vote in favor of the ultimate sanction. Ayala, like many other Florida prosecutors, could have easily pointed to the change in the death penalty law, as one of the reasons why she isn’t seeking death for Loyd. However, that’s not what she’s saying. By passionately stating that she will never seek the death penalty for Loyd or any future defendant during her entire four years in office, she’s essentially saying, “I cannot follow the law.” As an elected prosecutor, sworn to uphold the law, she is required to consider seeking the death penalty when appropriate. Merely considering it and actually seeking it, are two different things. The fact that she won’t even consider it, even in the most heinous of cases, means that she cannot fulfill her oath of office. I respect her beliefs. Her stance on the death penalty isn’t the issue. It’s just that she’s chosen a job where she at least she has to keep an open mind concerning the imposition of the death penalty on a case by case basis. While I’m never crazy about the idea of the governor getting involved in judicial matters, I believe her actions left him no alternative.
While I feel comfortable in my decision that Ayala must be removed, I still don’t love the idea that that the governor is the one to remove her. It’s a very dangerous slippery slope when politics starts to invade the judicial arena. Hopefully, the newly appointed state attorney will determine whether to seek the death penalty for Loyd without considering the political ramifications.