Politico has published its annual “Politico 50,” a list of “50 ideas blowing up American politics (and the people behind them).” Among those included in this year’s list is Florida State’s Attorney Aramis Ayala, who made headlines earlier this year when she announced that she would not pursue the death penalty in the case of Markeith Loyd, who was accused of killing an Orlando police officer.
In response to Ayala’s stance, Gov. Rick Scott reassigned not only the Loyd case but all of Ayala’s first-degree murder cases to another prosecutor, prompting Ayala to challenge his decision in the Florida Supreme Court.
Ayala told Politico, “When you get caught in this volley of ‘soft on crime,’ ‘hard on crime,’ you lose the concept of just being right on crime. Let’s just be right. It’s not a favor to criminals—it’s just doing right by the communities we serve.”
When Ayala announced her decision not to pursue the death penalty, she gave important and specific reasons why, including studies that have shown it provides no public safety benefits, it is not a deterrent and it ends up costing the state more than cases in which the defendant is sentenced to life in prison. She also said that the death penalty provides victims’ families with false hope.
“Some victims will support and some will surely oppose my decision, but I have learned that [the] death penalty traps many victims’ families in [a] decades-long cycle of uncertainty,” Ayala said in March. “ ... I cannot in good faith look a victim’s family in the face and promise that a death sentence handed down in our courts will ever result in execution.”
Politico sees Ayala as the “highest-profile figure” in a new wave of district attorneys using their prosecutorial discretion to create criminal-justice reform and address racial disparities in the legal system.
To that end, Ayala has introduced a new initiative that prevents juveniles from getting a permanent record just for being stopped by police if they are not actually arrested or charged with a crime.
As to the death penalty battle, Ayala lost her case against Scott when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that he does have the authority to reassign first-degree murder cases to a different prosecutor.
Following that decision, Ayala announced at a Sept. 1 news conference that she respected the decision and would be creating a death penalty review panel in her office that would independently evaluate whether or not to seek the death penalty in murder cases.
Ayala said at the time that creating the panel would remove the rationale for reassigning her cases in the first place.
“I don’t think at this point there’s any basis to remove cases because I’m following the law,” Ayala told reporters at the news conference.
The death penalty panel will be made up of six prosecuting attorneys as well as any attorneys assigned to prosecuting a particular case. If the panel comes to a unanimous decision that the death penalty is appropriate in the case, then it will make that recommendation to Ayala.
“It is worth noting that I have invested my authority into the review panel and have no intention of usurping that authority which I granted,” Ayala said.
Ayala told Politico that her death penalty stance was a “smart-on-crime conclusion” based on research that shows murder rates in general are no lower in capital punishment states.
She argues that prosecutors need the latitude to be able to make decisions that are “based on data and research and information, not because ‘we’ve always done it that way,’” and that “strike that proper balance of public safety and fairness.”
We need more prosecutors like Ayala in our criminal-justice system.
Read more at Politico.