Florida prosecutors are urging the state’s supreme court to reject an appeal by YNW Melly over whether the rapper should face the death penalty if convicted in his upcoming murder trial.
Last month, lawyers for Melly (real name Jamell Demons) asked the Florida Supreme Court to tackle his case, arguing that prosecutors had forfeited the right to seek the death penalty by failing to give proper notice that they planned to do so.
But in a response last week, Florida’s attorney general told the top court that it should steer clear of the rapper’s case.
“Demons has suffered no harm,” prosecutors wrote in the Feb. 27 brief. “He was on notice for three years that the State was seeking death and at no time had the State indicated it was altering its sentencing intent.”
In asking the state high court to take up his case, Melly has argued that it raises issues of “great public importance” for Florida law beyond his individual charges. But in their response, prosecutors said there was no such pressing need for such judicial review.
“No other district court has been faced with this issue, thus showing that the issue rarely arises,” the state wrote in its brief. “Should a death sentence be imposed, this Court will have the opportunity to resolve this unique matter on direct appeal.”
Melly has spent years awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges over accusations that he and another YNW rapper shot and killed Anthony “YNW Sakchaser” Williams and Christopher “YNW Juvy” Thomas Jr. in 2018.
A first-degree murder defendant in Florida would typically face the possibility of execution if convicted, but Melly’s attorneys argued last year that the state had failed to comply with strict laws on how they must warn defendants that they’ll seek the death penalty.
Florida requires prosecutors to give notice 45 days after arraignment if they plan to seek capital punishment. In Melly’s case, the state attorney filed such a notice when they originally indicted the rapper in 2019, but failed to do so when a so-called superseding indictment was handed down earlier this year.
In July, a trial judge sided with Melly’s attorneys and said prosecutors had forfeited the chance to seek death. But in November, an appeals court ruled the judge’s decision was incorrect. The court wrote that since prosecutors gave notice that they might seek death when they first charged Melly in 2019, they had complied with state rules: “Notice is notice.”
Melly appealed that ruling to the Florida Supreme Court last month, arguing it was important that the death penalty law have “precisely defined and easily understood rules.” But like the U.S. Supreme Court, Florida’s top court hears only a small percentage of the appeals it receives.
In its new brief, state prosecutors urged the court to refuse to do so in Melly’s case: “Demons attempts to find conflict were there is none.”
A decision on whether to take the case will be issued by the high court in the months ahead. If it takes the case, both sides will then present more in-depth arguments on the disputed issues. If not, the case will return to the lower court for a jury trial on the murder charges against Melly.
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