The Right to a Spencer Hearing in Florida Death Penalty Cases
The most serious sentence any criminal defendant can face is, of course, the death penalty — and that’s what seems most likely to happen to Randy Tundidor, the man who, according to the Fort Lauderdale Sun–Sentinel, murdered his landlord, a Nova Southeastern University professor. Tundidor’s attorneys have twice tried to appeal the death sentence by having the judge, the Honorable Cynthia Imperato, removed from his case. First, they argued that because Tundidor’s trial counsel was recently made a judge of the same court, it would be impossible for Judge Imperato to rule fairly on the question of whether he provided effective assistance. The appeal reached the Florida Supreme Court, where it was ruled that Imperato did not have to remove herself. Tundidor’s counsel then learned that Judge Imperato was charged with driving under the influence in Palm Beach County. As a result of this misconduct, she was suspended from service in the criminal courts, but chose to retain her existing jurisdiction over the Tundidor case. Tundidor’s attorneys argued that this chain of events clearly showed both that she was unfit to serve on criminal cases and that she was biased against their client. The appeal again reached the Florida Supreme Court, where it was again shot down. Undeterred by their previous losses, however, Tundidor’s attorneys are now trying yet another tactic to try to stop the death penalty recommended by the jury from being entered against their client. They are asking for what’s known as a Spencer hearing. This kind of dogged determination to pursue every one of a client’s rights is what should typify the conduct of an experienced criminal defense attorney.
What Is a Spencer Hearing?
A Spencer hearing, named for the 1993 case of Spencer v. Florida, is an opportunity for the defendant’s lawyers to present additional evidence to the judge before a sentence is entered. In that case, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a trial judge is required to hold a hearing at which the defendant receives an opportunity to be heard before imposing a death sentence. In addition, when appropriate, the defendant has the opportunity to present any additional evidence, and both sides get to comment on the recommended sentence. Finally, the defendant him- or herself has the right to speak at a Spencer hearing.
Typically, trial lawyers use Spencer hearings as an opportunity to argue either that there are mitigating factors suggesting that the death penalty is not warranted or that there is additional evidence supporting reasonable doubt as to their client’s guilt. In Mr. Tundidor’s case, the attorneys are going to use the latter tactic (perhaps because they believe that arguing for the existence of mitigating factors in a murder case is not likely to succeed).
Speak with Zealous Counsel
Perish the thought, but if you’re in the most dire position imaginable, you want attorneys who will fight for you using every avenue available under the law. It’s what Tundidor’s attorneys are doing, and it’s what a top-notch Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik will do as well.