Florida Death Row Prisoner Entitled to Prison and Medical Records
by David M. Reutter
On December 19, 2013, the Florida Supreme Court held that a death-sentenced prisoner was entitled to receive his prison and medical records once the governor signs a death warrant; however, he was not entitled to clemency-related records.
After Governor Rick Scott signed a death warrant for condemned prisoner Askari Abdullah Muhammad on October 21, 2013, Muhammad filed a successive motion for post-conviction relief and motion for disclosure of public records. The trial court denied the motions and the Florida Supreme Court granted review.
The motion for public records sought any files, reports, notes and other documents that pertained to Muhammad from the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC), Florida Department of Law Enforcement, State Attorneys for the Eighth and Eleventh Judicial Circuit Courts, and a medical examiner who had autopsied an executed prisoner.
The Supreme Court found the requests were “overly broad and Muhammad did not clearly demonstrate how the records were relevant to a colorable claim.” It did, however, hold that he was entitled to his own prison and medical records.
As Florida law allows a prisoner to petition the governor to determine if he or she is insane and not competent to be executed, a prisoner’s prison and medical records are relevant to such a potential claim and should have been produced, the Court found.
Muhammad also sought clemency-related files, which are confidential; further, claims challenging clemency proceedings are meritless, the Supreme Court wrote. Therefore, the denial of those records was not an abuse of discretion. The Court further held that autopsy photos and reports concerning the October 2013 execution of William Happ could not assist Muhammad in his claim related to the “alleged inefficacy of midazolam hydrochloride,” an execution drug used by the state. [See: PLN, March 2014, p.46].
The FDOC was ordered to immediately produce copies of Muhammad’s prison and medical records, and the trial court’s order was affirmed on all other issues. See: Muhammad v. State, 132 So.3d 176 (Fla. 2013).
Muhammad, 62, was subsequently executed on January 7, 2014. He had been sentenced to death for using a sharpened spoon to kill FDOC guard Richard James Burke while already on death row for abducting and murdering two people.
Muhammad killed Burke in October 1980 after being told he had to shave his beard or he could not receive a visitor. In response he reportedly said, “it looks like I’ll have to start sticking people.” He had spent 40 years in prison, almost all on death row.
Additional sources: Miami Herald, www.jacksonville.com
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Related legal case
Muhammad v. State
|Cite||132 So.3d 176 (Fla. 2013)|
|Level||State Supreme Court|