Capital murder cases, or those punishable by death, are the most serious on our books, and investing in a highly-skilled and experienced Florida criminal defense lawyer is absolutely critical in these instances.
When that doesn’t happen, it’s literally a matter of life and death for the defendant.
Thankfully in a Robinson v. State of Florida, heard recently by the Florida Supreme Court, his death sentence was overturned due to lack of adequate counsel.
The crimes alleged back in 1988 were especially heinous, but the Supreme Court ultimately held that the defense counsel in the case had failed to properly investigate mitigating circumstances and witnesses for the sentencing phase of the conviction. A jury had sentenced him to life, but the district court disagreed with that decision, based on a host of aggravating circumstances, and sentenced the defendant to die. The appellate court denied his appeal claiming ineffective counsel, but the Supreme Court reversed that ruling and issued a new sentence of life in prison.
Some background on the case:
The defendant, “Robinson,” was reportedly a member of a drug organization that called itself “The Miami Boys,” and they were known for trafficking in substances throughout the South Florida area.
According to court records, a safe containing drugs and money was stolen from a Pensacola home of one of the members of this organization by two of his neighbors. The safe was taken to the home of a girlfriend of one of the gang members.
Then late in the evening one night in September, “Robinson” and three other defendants reportedly forced their way into the apartment of the two men who had stolen the safe. There were five people inside, including three men and two women. A third woman was then brought to the residence.
Robinson and his co-defendants then reportedly began demanding the drugs and money. When no one spoke up, he reportedly began stabbing one of the men. One of the women then agreed to take them to where the drugs were. She and another woman went with the defendants to where the drugs were. The women were reportedly each sexually assaulted by Robinson and another defendant.
When they returned to the original apartment, the woman who did not go with them had escaped. Robinson and one of his co-defendants then allegedly slashed the throats of the five remaining individuals and then shot them each in the head. Only one of the females survived.
Robinson was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, armed kidnapping, armed robbery, armed sexual battery, armed burglary and conspiracy to traffic drugs.
Robinson claimed to have been in New Jersey at the time of the crime, but he was still convicted.
During the penalty phase, all the court really heard from the defense was that he had a good relationship with his mother, he grew up in a poor neighborhood and had witnessed violence at home. The Supreme Court later determined that the defense attorney had failed to thoroughly investigate or invest in exploring the mitigating circumstances that might have been considered in court. The defense reportedly never obtained records from the group home where he had spent time as a juvenile or conduct any additional research into mitigating factors.
The district court had ruled that those things wouldn’t have made a difference. The Supreme Court disagreed. In fact, the court stated that, “An attorney’s obligation to investigate and prepare for the penalty portion of a capital case cannot be overstated because this is an integral part of a capital case.”
The truth of the matter is that the mitigation phase of a capital case must be treated as a separate court case, entirely and must be built with every bit as much diligence as the defense case. It’s literally a matter of life and death.