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Friday, May 28, 2004

Frickin' Florida.

I hail from Florida originally, as my readership knows -- not because I've ever mentioned it on the blog, but because I strongly suspect that I have personally met each and every one of my readers.

I know Florida. I knew Florida was completely nuts before the 2000 election, when everybody started to talk about how Florida was insane. Hell -- that was old news. I have seen the insanity first hand, such as when "separate but equal" was turned, through a massive bout of Doublethink, into "One Florida." Alligator Alley runs through my soul. I have seen Homestead, Florida, and my retinas still burn.

I am an apostate now, far away from the desolate spit of weirdness, but I lean fully on my Florida credentials when I say this:

Y'all ain't sh*t.

And here's what's got me so riled up: Clyde Timothy Bunkley is going to die in prison.

Here's the story, step by step, so that you can follow along at home.

1. Bunkley burgled a Western Sizzlin' (tm) late one night, while the restaurant was closed and unoccupied. In his pocket, unused, was a fairly large Buck knife -- not quite 3 inches long. Bunkley was arrested and found guilty of the crime of burglary. And just to be clear -- I'm okay with the story thus far. Bunkley needs to go to jail for burglarizing the Western Sizzlin' (tm). In life, there ain't no such thing as a free trip to the potato bar.

2. Bunkley was found guilty of armed burglary. Armed? Yes -- he had a pocketknife in his pocket while he robbed the unoccupied Western Sizzlin' (tm).

Q: Is that illegal? A: Yes. Under the statute, it does not matter whether you ever use the weapon, or intend to use the weapon. It just has to be a weapon in your possession. No ifs, ands, or buts. Legislators routinely get into fights on the floor of the Florida Legislature over which one of them is tougher on crime. I suspect that's why the Florida capitol complex looks like a big penis with two testicles beside it.

Q: Is a pocketknife a weapon? A: Well, that's the rub.

3. The statutory definition of "armed" ultimately excludes a "common pocketknife," a term which is not itself defined. The Attorney General had said in the 50s that it would include all folding knives shorter than four inches, but the judge-made law at the time was that the jury had to decide whether the weapon was a "common pocketknife." A cop testified that it was "uncommon" that the knife was a "good size" and that it had a locking mechanism. Of course, all Buck knives have a locking mechanism, but that was enough to sway the jury. Bunkley's run-of-the-mill, buy-it-at-Wal-Mart Buck knife was not a "common pocketknife," it was a "dangerous weapon."

4. Bunkley was sentenced to life in prison. If he was not "armed," he would do no more than five years. His appeals are dismissed.

5. Eight years go by.

6. The Florida Supreme Court decides L.B. v. State, 700 So.2d 370 (Fla. 1997). The court of appeals has held that the exception for "common pocketknives" is unconstitutionally vague. The Florida Supreme Court reverses, because everyone knows that a "common pocketknife" does not include a 3 3/4 inch Buck knife. In fact, the Court is so certain of this, it holds that a Buck knife is a "common pocketknife" as a matter of law -- for non-lawyers, that means that no reasonable person could possibly disagree. Thus, the statute is not unconstitutionally vague.

7. You see where this is heading. Bunkley files a habeas corpus petition saying, "Hey! I have served eight years in prison for being 'armed' with a Buck knife." Under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, a conviction violates the Due Process clause if the highest court of the state later "clarifies" the statute under which the prisoner was convicted in a way that shows the prisoner did not violate the law.

8. The state courts decide whether their decisions are "clarifications" or "changes" -- it's not a matter of federal constitutional law.

9. The statute had not changed between 1989 and 1997.

10. The Florida Supreme Court held that Bunkley has to die in prison.

11. The Court said that it did not "clarify" the law in 1997, even though the statute had not changed. It had "changed" it, because the prior law was "established." That is, it was "established" that the jury decided whether a given pocketknife was a "common pocketknife." When the Supreme Court held that no reasonable person could think that a 3 3/4 inch Buck knife was not a "common pocketknife," it therefore "changed" the law.

Q: Is this retarded? A: Yes. See below.

12. Bunkley appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed and sent the case back down to the Florida Supreme Court. It's opinion can be summarized thus: "Watchoo talkin' bout, Willis?"

No, actually, they asked the Florida Supreme Court to clarify that it really meant to say that its first opinion interpreting the statute was a "change" in the law and not a "clarification." A dissent by the Rehnquist Three said that Florida had been perfectly clear in its insanity the first time, and needed no second chance to screw things up. You will recall that the Rehnquist Three are not big fans of sending things back to the Florida Supreme Court for clarification; "hell," they reasoned, "those idiots would have recounted the ballots in 2000 and thus 'cast[] a cloud upon what [the Preznit] claims to be the legitimacy of his election.'"

Q: When the Supreme Court sends something back like that, is it a strong signal to fix the problem? A: Yes. The emphasis of the remand could not have been more clear if it were written in flaming devil blood.

13. Today, 4-2, the Florida Supreme Court again held that Bunkley must die in prison.

14. See, here's the reasoning, which takes over eighty pages of concurrences and dissents and the like. If they said that they "clarified" the law, then it would be disrespectful to the courts of appeals. And they never said that the law was not unconstitutionally vague, they just mentioned that it was not unconstitutionally vague while holding that no reasonable person could think that a Buck knife was not a "common pocketknife." And if they let Bunkley out of prison, think of all the other people they would have to let out of prison!

Q: I don't really have a question. I'm just letting that sink in. A: Go right ahead.

Q: So why is Bunkley in prison? A: Because the Florida Supreme Court held that his jury acted completely unreasonably, but did not unequivocally make a federal constitutional decision in doing so. Because the Supreme Court interpreted a statute for the first time, but it did not "clarify" that statute in such a way that it absolutely has to go back and correct things. And because there are a lot of folks in prison that would get out if we started applying the law evenhandedly.

So that's the story. A man is going to spend the rest of his life in prison for a crime that the Supreme Court later said was nonsense.

All I can say to you Floridians is this: y'all ain't sh*t. But you have a chance to be something. Bell, Lewis, Wells and Cantero are all elected officials. Redeem yourselves. Make the bastards pay.

 12:12 PM

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