Lawyers for YNW Melly have launched an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, asking the court to overturn a ruling last year that said the rapper could face the death penalty if convicted in his upcoming murder trial.
In an opening brief filed last month, Melly’s lawyers urged Florida’s top court to rule that prosecutors had forfeited the right to seek capital punishment. They say the government failed to give Melly and his attorneys proper notice that they planned to do so, violating strict procedural rules.
In making their argument to the state high court, the rapper’s lawyers said the justices should take the case because it raises issues of “great public importance” beyond Melly’s individual charges.
“Death penalty law is an area where it is in the clear interest of everyone — defendants, victims, lawyers, judges, etc. — to have precisely defined and easily understood rules,” Melly’s attorneys, Daniel Tibbitt and Philip R. Horowitz, wrote in the Jan. 27 brief.
Melly (real name Jamell Demons) 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 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 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.”
In taking the case to the Florida Supreme Court last month, Melly’s lawyers argued the state rules “plainly require” new notice be filed when a new indictment is handed down.
“The Petitioner was arraigned on a new indictment, and the State did not file the requisite notice within 45 days of that arraignment (or ever),” the rapper’s lawyers wrote. “The State relies on a notice that was filed as to an original indictment that is, and has been since the filing of the new indictment, a legal nullity.”
An attorney for the state of Florida did not immediately return a request for comment. The state can file a response to the brief in the months ahead.