An elected prosecutor in Florida who has declined to seek the death penalty in a pair of high-profile murder cases is now suing the Florida governor for removing her from those cases and assigning them to a prosecutor from another district.
State Attorney Aramis Ayala, who serves Osceola and Orange counties, filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday claiming that Gov. Rick Scott (R) violated her constitutional rights when he signed a series of executive orders directing her reassignment from 23 murder cases in which she wouldn’t be pursuing the death penalty.
In one statement condemning Ayala, Scott said her refusal to rely on capital punishment in these prosecutions “sends an unacceptable message that she is not interested in considering every available option in the fight for justice.”
Ayala is the first elected African-American state attorney in Florida history. She was elected to serve a four-year term in November.
“The Governor did not take this drastic step because of any misconduct on Ayala’s part, but simply because he disagreed with her reasoned prosecutorial determination not to seek the death penalty under current circumstances,” said Ayala’s federal complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for for the Middle District of Florida.
Ayala made waves in March when she concluded that she would not seek a death sentence for Markeith Loyd, who was indicted for the murders of a pregnant 24-year-old and a police officer in separate incidents in December and January.
“What has become abundantly clear through this process is that while I currently do have discretion to pursue death sentences,” Ayala said at the time, “I have determined that doing so is not in the best interest of this community or the best interest of justice.”
That move set off Scott, who signed an executive order that effectively took her off the Loyd prosecution and reassigned the case to Brad King, a state attorney who serves a different judicial circuit covering different counties and voters than those that elected Ayala.
Earlier this month, Scott signed 21 additional executive orders putting King in charge of other capital cases, many of which were already in progress or had defendants that had long ago been sentenced to death — but who needed to be re-sentenced because the Florida death penalty statute had been found unconstitutional.
King is also named as defendant in Ayala’s complaint, which alleges that this reassignment deprives the voters of Osceola and Orange counties of Ayala’s representation in prosecuting crime.
Ayala’s lawsuit seeks a declaration that Scott violated the Constitution and that she is the rightful elected prosecutor with discretion to manage these capital prosecutions. Ayala also seeks an order reinstating her to oversee these prosecutions.
Among the reasons Ayala has cited for not seeking the death penalty is its racially discriminatory application in Florida, the burden on taxpayers, the likelihood of executing innocent people, and the uncertainty for victims’ families — who often have to wait decades for an execution to take place.
“Some are left waiting for an execution that will never occur,” Ayala said last month when explaining her decision in the Loyd case. “I cannot, in good faith, look a victim in the face and promise that a death sentence handed down in our courts will ever result in execution.”
“My duty is to seek justice, which is fairness, objectivity and decency. I am prohibited from making the severity of sentences the index of my effectiveness,” she added.