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Florida Supreme Court Rules In Favor of Gov. Scott in Death Penalty Dispute

Ninth circuit Aramis Ayala and Governor Rick Scott were in a dispute over the handling of death penalty cases. File photos: WMFE.
Ninth circuit Aramis Ayala and Governor Rick Scott were in a dispute over the handling of death penalty cases. File photos: WMFE.

The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that Gov. Rick Scott has the authority to remove Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala from first-degree murder cases despite her opposition.

The ruling came down after a battle that dates back to March when Ayala announced that her office would not pursue the death penalty in any cases. The controversial decision prompted sharp criticism from Gov. Scott’s office, lawmakers, and some crime victims’ rights groups. Scott then began removing murder cases from Ayala’s office and transferring them to fifth circuit attorney Brad King.

In a lawsuit Ayala filed with the State Supreme Court, she alleged that Scott was overstepping his authority and limiting her discretion as an attorney.

However, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 5 – 2, arguing that the governor was acting within his power.

They said the state constitution grants the governor "supreme executive power" to see that laws are faithfully executed, and that Scott--and any Florida governor--has "broad authority to assign state attorneys to other circuits."

The governor's office issued a statement, calling Ayala's decision "shortsighted" and the Supreme Court ruling "a great victory."

Ayala’s office said it will implement a Death Penalty Review Panel comprised of 7 assistant state attorneys to evaluate first degree murder cases.

The governor's office told WMFE that it has not seen details about the proposed panel.

This is a developing story. Please check back in for updates.