Patrick C. Hannon is scheduled to be executed today at 6 p.m. at the Florida State Prison in Raiford, Florida. Last month, Cary Lambrix’s execution was also scheduled for 6 p.m., but the State waited for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on his pending petitions before proceeding. That didn’t happen until about 9 p.m. No telling when we’ll hear from SCOTUS in Hannon’s case.
If 6 p.m. arrives and SCOTUS hasn’t ruled yet, information about the status of the execution will be very limited. Media and witnesses won’t have electronic devices, and won’t have communication with the outside world. The media briefing schedule is here. During Lambrix’s execution last month, there was scant information after 6 p.m. There’s already limited media coverage for Hannon’s execution, so don’t expect too many live updates after 6 p.m.
If SCOTUS denies relief before 6 p.m., however, expect the execution to begin as scheduled.
Of course, if SCOTUS grants review in Hannon’s case and enters a stay of execution, there won’t be an execution.
Hannon’s legal situation/Crash-course on Hurst
After SCOTUS ruled that Florida’s death penalty procedures were unconstitutional in Hurst v. Florida, the Florida Supreme Court began implementing that ruling starting with their opinion in Hurst II. Before Hurst, during the penalty phase–where the sentence is determined–the jury would give a recommendation of either the death penalty or life in prison. But the judge had the ultimate say, and could even override a recommendation of life in prison and impose the death sentence (this was extremely rare, but happened here and here).
The general rule out of Hurst is that the jury needs to be the one imposing the sentence, they must do so unanimously (12-0), and they must find that the State proved that the aggravating evidence outweighed the mitigating evidence.
Based on this, the Florida Supreme Court has vacated death sentences that had a non-unanimous jury recommendation (11-1, 10-2, 9-3, etc.), and sent the case back for a new penalty phase with a new jury (58 times since Hurst, by our count).
But so far, they’ve upheld any death sentence that had a 12-0 vote, under the theory that any Hurst violation was harmless in those cases. Further, they have refused to vacate any death sentence that was final before June 24, 2002, or the date that Ring v. Arizona was decided–regardless of the jury’s vote in the case.
Hannon has both strikes against him–unanimous jury and a pre-Ring sentence. And the Florida Supreme Court denied relief accordingly.
Up to SCOTUS
SCOTUS didn’t intervene in the previous 2 post-Hurst executions, where the jury votes weren’t unanimous but the sentences were final before Ring.
As we mentioned Monday, there’s been a shift to the Eighth Amendment in cases that weren’t overturned under Hurst. So far, the Eighth Amendment arguments have been rejected, most emphatically by the Eleventh Circuit in Lambrix’s case, and most recently in Hannon’s last appeal at the Florida Supreme Court.
A few weeks ago, three SCOTUS justices thought the Eighth Amendment argument was worth a remand to the Florida Supreme Court for a definitive ruling on the issue in two cases. It takes four votes to grant cert.
We’ll find out if any of the justices think the issue’s worth a look in Hannon’s case.
Links for further reading
For those so interested, here’s information from SCOTUS regarding applications for stay of execution. Also, here’s the Florida Department of Corrections’s lethal injection protocol. The Department also has facts about the death penalty in Florida here.
Watching and waiting
SCOTUS order page is here. When they rule, it will likely appear as a miscellaneous order with today’s date. [Public Service Announcement: resist the urge to refresh the page every 30 seconds. Your author’s pretty sure the SCOTUS website locked him out during Lambrix’s execution night due to the frequent use of the refresh button. He read the orders on Twitter when someone else posted them.] Hannon’s docket pages: No. 17-6650 and No. 17A490.
Now we wait.