TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA) — Rejecting what it described as a “novel” argument about a voter-approved constitutional amendment, the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to halt the scheduled Thursday evening execution of Death Row inmate Jose Antonio Jimenez.
Justices, in a unanimous decision, denied a motion to stay the execution of Jimenez, 55, who was convicted in the 1992 murder of a Miami-Dade County woman. Jimenez also had two cases pending Wednesday at the U.S. Supreme Court, according to an online docket. The execution is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at Florida State Prison.
The Florida Supreme Court decision dealt with arguments by Jimenez’s attorneys that he should be spared execution because of a constitutional amendment that voters approved Nov. 6. Part of the amendment changed what is known as the “Savings Clause” of the Florida Constitution, a more than century-old provision dealing with how revisions in criminal laws should be applied to older crimes.
The Savings Clause historically has required that criminal laws in effect at the time crimes are committed govern the sentences that are imposed. But the November ballot measure, Amendment 11, included a change in the clause. It allowed revisions to criminal laws to affect sentences for older crimes.
Jimenez’s attorneys contended that the amendment is important in his case because of changes in Florida’s death-penalty sentencing laws in 2017. The sentencing laws had to be rewritten because of a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said the state’s death-penalty sentencing structure was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges, instead of juries.
With the passage of Amendment 11, Jimenez’s attorneys argued the revised laws should be applied to his case — and that they should prevent his execution. In part, the revised laws require juries to unanimously find at least one “aggravating” factor to help justify a death sentence, a tougher standard for prosecutors than was in place when Jimenez was sentenced to death.
But the justices flatly rejected the arguments, saying that the constitutional amendment does not take effect until Jan. 8 and that, “even if the amendment were in effect, it does not change the law applicable to Jimenez’s conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death.”
The four-page decision called the arguments by Jimenez’s attorneys a “novel assertion” and said lawmakers will have authority to determine how to apply the change in the Savings Clause.
Justices said the change means “that there will no longer be any provision in the Florida Constitution that would prohibit the Legislature from applying an amended criminal statute retroactively to pending prosecutions or sentences. However, nothing in our Constitution does or will require the Legislature to do so, and the repeal of the prohibition will not require that they do so.”
Jimenez was convicted of killing Phyllis Minas, 63, during a burglary. Neighbors tried to enter the home through an unlocked front door after hearing Minas’ cries, but Jimenez slammed the door shut, locked it and fled by going onto a bedroom balcony, according to court documents.
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