Florida’s ongoing controversy over the death penalty is coming to a head with a new ruling from the Florida Supreme Court. On October 14, the state Supreme Court mandated new legislation to require a unanimous jury to sentence a defendant to death.
What changes is the Supreme Court making to the death penalty?
The change comes after a January ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that invalidated the existing death penalty law and sought to revise the process. The existing law allowed for a simple majority to hand down the death penalty and the judge could overturn that verdict in favor for the death penalty.
In response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year, the Florida legislature modified the law, requiring a 10-2 jury majority and unanimous agreement by the jury that at least one aggravating factor exists. Earlier this year the Supreme Court heard arguments about the constitutionality of this new death penalty law.
The latest ruling found the new law unconstitutional and the legislature must now work on writing a new law to replace the existing one. “We conclude that the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury mandates that under Florida’s capital sentencing scheme, the jury – not the judge – must be the finder of every fact, and thus every element, necessary for the imposition of the death penalty,” the court wrote in its 5-2 ruling.
Florida now joins the majority of states that require unanimous juries to impose the death penalty.
What does this change mean to people currently serving a death penalty sentence or are awaiting a trial?
It is currently unclear how the new ruling will affect people already on death row. Two other state cases will likely decide how the Supreme Court retroactively applies new death penalty requirements.
Following the Hurst ruling, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office stated as many as 43 of Florida’s 385 death row inmates could have their sentences reduced to life sentences without parole or get a new sentencing hearing.
For inmates currently awaiting sentencing, the requirement for a unanimous jury vote will apply as long as the jurors have not yet recommended the death penalty.
When Facing Serious Criminal Charges, Make Sure You Have a Defense Attorney
The Fair Punishment Project – a student-led initiative from Harvard University – reviewed the death penalty rates in counties across the United States. Four Florida counties, including Pinellas and Hillsborough, were among the top 16 counties with the most death row convictions.
If you are currently facing criminal charges that could result in the death penalty, it is critical that you seek legal help. For criminal defense help in St. Petersburg, call 727-828-3900 to learn about your right to an attorney for assistance and guidance through the legal process.