Florida Supreme Court Rules Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Ruling Cannot Apply Retroactively – Walton v. State

December 7, 2011 by David S. Seltzer

As a south Florida criminal defense attorney, I know how important the assistance of an experienced attorney can be. This is especially true for defendants facing serious charges like murder and manslaughter, who are eligible for the death penalty or life in prison. That’s why I was interested to see a recent Florida Supreme Court decision denying a capital murder defendant’s petition to apply a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling retroactively to his own case. In Walton v. State, Jason Dirk Walton argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel under the 2009 decision, Porter v. McCollum. He asked the court to apply Porter to his three convictions for capital murder in 1985 and again on retrial in 1989, relying on 1980’s Witt v. State to make it retroactive. Neither the trial court nor the Florida Supreme Court agreed.

In Witt, the Florida high court held that decisions should be retroactive only when they involve constitutional changes. This is to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis in each court. In Porter, the defendant argued for postconviction relief because of ineffective assistance of an attorney who did not present mitigating evidence about Porter’s childhood, military service and impairments. The United States Supreme Court found that this was prejudicial.

In the instant case, Walton argued that before Porter, including in his own case, the Florida Supreme Court had misread the law on ineffective assistance of counsel. Before the trial court, he said this was a fundamental change in the law under Witt, allowing it to apply retroactively. The trial court found this untimely, successive and procedurally barred and denied it without a hearing. It also concluded that Porter was not a constitutional change. Walton appealed, but had no better luck before the Florida Supreme Court. That court agreed that Porter did not create a fundamental constitutional change. As a result, it said, Witt cannot be used to make it apply retroactively. Furthermore, the court said, the instant case attempts to relitigate issues that had been settled in Walton’s previous postconviction motion. Thus, it upheld the trial court.

This decision underscores the importance of having a Fort Lauderdale murder criminal defense lawyer by your side if you are facing charges as serious as Walton’s. When your life is literally on the line, you need an attorney who will protect all of your interests at trial and explore every avenue of defense that could reasonably help. This includes presenting the kind of background information seen as mitigating in Porter — evidence of a troubled childhood, addiction problems, post-traumatic stress disorder and other explanations for the defendant’s actions. As this case shows, it’s very difficult to convince a court to reconsider a conviction once that conviction has been entered. This is why it’s so important for Miami-Dade manslaughter defense attorneys like me to present a vigorous and thorough defense the first time.

If you or someone you love is facing serious criminal charges in Florida, you should call Seltzer Law, P.A., to discuss how we can help. For a free, confidential case evaluation, send us an email or call 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).

Similar blog posts:

Florida Supreme Court Declines to Reach Jurisdiction Claim, Ruling Challenge Is Time Barred – Carbajal v. State

Florida Supreme Court Imposes Sanctions on Prisoner for Filing Too Many Legal Cases – Hastings v. State

Florida Supreme Court Sends Back Five Murder Cases for Potential Jury Instruction Flaws