Changes to Florida Death Penalty Law

The Florida death penalty law has recently undergone major reforms that leave matters up in the air for current inmates on Death Row.

In Hurst v. Florida (March 2015), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that certain aspects of Florida’s death penalty sentencing system were unconstitutional. As such, capital punishment in the state had been on hold since January 12, 2016. But recently, Governor Rick Scott signed HB 7101 into law in early March, which aims to remedy the system so that executions may resume.

What are some of the changes to Florida’s capital punishment system?

Prior to the recent changes, Florida required only a majority vote amongst jurors to sentence someone to death. This means that juries could recommend the death penalty by a vote of 7-5. All other states, except Delaware, have a much higher threshold; most states require that jurors agree unanimously on a recommendation of the death penalty.

The new bill provides for several important procedural changes. Some of the notable changes include the following:

  • The prosecutor must give notice to the defendant as well as to the court within a certain timeframe if she intends to seek the death penalty.
  • Juries have to determine the existence of aggravating factors, if any, in the penalty phase of capital cases.
  • At least 10 of the 12 jurors have to support a recommendation of a death sentence.

What does this mean for current inmates facing the death penalty?

The highest court in the state temporarily delayed the executions of two inmates on Death Row, Michael Lambrix and Mark Asay. Forty-three other inmates currently on Death Row are entitled to an automatic post-Hurst reevaluation of their cases. In some, the death penalty may hold, while in others, the courts may reduce the penalties to life without parole.

While the state is currently working through kinks in the justice system, Attorney General Pam Bondi makes it clear that the recent challenges to Florida’s sentencing protocols do not mean that the death penalty itself is unconstitutional. Her office wrote: “The United States Supreme Court has not held that death as a penalty violates the Eighth Amendment, but has only stricken Florida’s current statutory procedures for implementation,” reports the Miami Herald.

Where can inmates get legal advice for capital felonies in Florida?

Those facing capital felony charges and those currently facing the death penalty can consult a criminal defense lawyer at Goldman Wetzel to evaluate their case and determine how to move forward. Contact Goldman Wetzel at 727-828-3900.

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