On March 16, Aramis Ayala, the first black state attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit in Florida, which includes Orlando and Orange counties, took the podium in front of the Orange County Courthouse and announced that her office would no longer seek the death penalty. “I have determined that doing so is not in the best interest of this community or the best interest of justice,” Ayala said, explaining that she’d based her decision on a host of factors, including the high costs of death-penalty prosecutions, the lack of a deterrent effect, and harm to the victims’ families. “I do understand this is a controversial issue,” Ayala concluded. “But what is not controversial is the evidence that led me to my decision.”
The impetus for Ayala’s announcement was the trial of Markeith Loyd, who was accused of shooting his pregnant ex-girlfriend in her home as well as a police officer in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Witnesses saw Loyd firing multiple rounds into the officer’s prone body. The killing inspired particular ire among law-enforcement leaders, who demanded the death penalty alongside the Florida attorney general and some lawmakers.
Ironically, the FPAA’s brief against Ayala arguably runs counter to its members’ own interest in maximizing prosecutorial discretion. (The FPAA also ran into a bit of trouble when it turned out that large portions of its brief were plagiarized from a blog post.) David Sklansky, a law professor at Stanford University who studies the role of prosecutors, described this in an e-mail to me as “odd.” Sklansky added: “It’s also odd that they accuse [Ayala] of ‘using her own moral code’ when she spelled out, explicitly, her reasons for deciding not to seek the death penalty, and none of them had to do with ‘her own moral code.’”Read More