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Florida Death Row Prisoners Cannot Challenge Sentence Pro Se

Citing its “constitutional responsibility to ensure the death penalty is administered in a fair, consistent and reliable manner, as well as having an administrative responsibility to work to minimize the delays inherent in the post-conviction process,” the Florida Supreme Court held on October 6, 2011 that prisoners sentenced to death do not have a constitutional right to act pro se in post-conviction proceedings.

That ruling came in a case involving death row prisoner Robert Gordon. The trial court had granted Gordon leave to file a successive post-conviction petition in a pro se capacity. When the court summarily denied the petition, Gordon filed a pro se notice of appeal with the Florida Supreme Court.

The Court temporarily relinquished jurisdiction so the trial court could offer Gordon appointed counsel, and an attorney was ultimately appointed for the appeal.

Before briefs were filed, Gordon and his appointed counsel filed separate motions to discharge or withdraw counsel. The Supreme Court then held that death-sentenced prisoners have no federal constitutional right to act pro se in direct appeals of post-conviction proceedings under U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

The Supreme Court in Martinez v. Court of Appeal of California, 538 U.S. 152 (2000) left the determination of a right of self-representation on appeal to the states under their respective state constitutions. The Florida Supreme Court found that no such right existed, and the decision in this case extended that finding to post-conviction proceedings by death-sentenced prisoners. See: Gordon v. State, 75 So.3d 200 (Fla. 2011).

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Related legal case

Gordon v. State