A Florida appeals court ruled Wednesday that YNW Melly could face the death penalty if convicted in his upcoming murder trial, overturning a judge’s decision that prosecutors forfeited the right to seek capital punishment.
But in a ruling on Wednesday, Florida’s District Court of Appeal ruled the judge’s decision was incorrect. 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,” the court wrote in its opinion.
The ruling means that Melly could be sentenced to death if convicted in his upcoming trial. But that likely won’t take place until the Florida Supreme Court rules on the case, because Wednesday’s ruling certified the issue as one of “great public importance” that should be decided by the state high court.
YNW Melly Murder Trial Delayed Until Death Penalty Issue Is Resolved
In a statement to Billboard, Melly’s attorney Philip R. Horowitz said he and his client were “disappointed in the ruling” but “look forward to our opportunity to argue our position before the justices.”
The ruling came as Melly (real name Jamell Demons) continues to await trial on first-degree murder charges over accusations that he and another rapper shot and killed Anthony “YNW Sakchaser” Williams and Christopher “YNW Juvy” Thomas Jr. in 2018.
A trial had previously been scheduled for April, but was called off at the last minute, prompting Melly’s attorneys to file a so-called “speedy trial demand” that would require the case to start within 60 days. Another trial was then set for July, but the case was again delayed over the current dispute about the death penalty.
A first-degree murder defendant in Florida would typically face the possibility of execution if convicted, but Melly’s attorneys argued in April 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 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, Judge Siegel sided with Melly’s attorneys and said prosecutors had forfeited the chance to seek death. But after prosecutors argued that the ruling was clearly incorrect, Judge Siegel acknowledged that his ruling addressed a novel legal question and halted the case until a state appeals court could rule on it.
On Wednesday, the District Court of Appeal did so – and sided decisively with prosecutors.
“We find that the state complied with its statutory obligations when it filed its notice of intent to seek the death penalty within 45 days of arraignment,” Judge Spencer D. Levine wrote for the appeals court. “The fact that the state filed a superseding indictment, requiring a second arraignment, does not vitiate the already filed and timely notice of intent. Notice is notice.”
The ruling said that rules were designed to give defendants a fair chance to prepare for a death penalty argument, and that prosecutors had lived up to that requirement with their original notice.
“Clearly, in the present case, the defendant was noticed and apprised of the state seeking the death penalty in 2019,” Judge Levine wrote. “The defendant has had nearly three years to start the preparation of his defense to the state seeking the death penalty [and] the record contains no evidence that the defendant was prejudiced in any way.”
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