With regard to Wednesday’s Palm Beach Post editorial, “Scott’s attack on attorney about power, not justice,” the issues are straightforward and not in dispute. An elected state attorney from Orlando, Aramis Ayala, refused to seek the death penalty in a case before her. This she was absolutely entitled to do. Unfortunately, she took one step too many when she added that because of her problems with the death penalty, she would not seek it in any case in her jurisdiction.
The editorial correctly points out that prosecutors have broad discretionary power and that every first-degree murder case is not a death penalty case. The editorial went on to point out that, “We don’t necessarily agree with Ayala’s position rejecting the death penalty in all cases. But we respect her authority… to do so.”
Respectfully, that is where the editorial misses the mark. While a prosecutor is given broad discretion in how to prosecute a case, with the grant of that discretion is the obligation to use it. Each case has to be decided individually based on its own merits. Discretion has to be exercised in each case. By asserting, as Ayala did, that she would never seek the death penalty in any case before her, she acknowledged that she was refusing to exercise discretion. She announced that she simply prejudged all cases without looking at the facts of any and refused to exercise discretion on each as she is obligated to do. The exercise of discretion and prejudgment are not synonymous.
Gov. Rick Scott was correct when he said that “… families deserve a state attorney who will take the time to review every individual fact and circumstance before making such an impactful decision.” Indeed, that is Ayala’s job.
The editorial quotes from a letter from some law professors, former judges and prosecutors supporting her saying that Ayala “… is solely empowered to make prosecutorial decisions for her circuit.” She is, but where the letter misses the mark also, is that she must make decisions based on each case. Exercising discretion is not prejudging every case beforehand. It is exercised based on the facts and circumstances of each case. Her refusal is a violation of her duty as a prosecutor.
A fish mounted on a defense attorney’s wall had the wry caption, “If he’d kept his mouth shut, he wouldn’t have gotten caught.” If Ayala had kept her mouth shut and simply chosen not to seek the death penalty, there would be no issue. By declaring that she would never seek the death penalty under any circumstances, she took a step too far.
ROBERT B. CARNEY, WEST PALM BEACH
Editor’s note: Robert B. Carney is a retired Florida judge.