Florida Supreme Court Considering Death Penalty & Open Carry Laws

This week, the Florida Supreme Court is considering cases that could shape the state’s death penalty law as well as its ban on the open carry of firearms in public.

Court Considers Whether New Death Penalty Law Applies to Pending Cases

On Tuesday, the justices heard arguments regarding the constitutionality of its new death penalty law, which went into effect earlier this year after the U.S. Supreme Court declared the old law unconstitutional.

Under the old law, juries needed a simple 7-5 majority to recommend the death penalty. Judges would then consider aggravating factors in determining whether to sentence a defendant to death.

The new law requires a 10-2 jury vote to recommend the death penalty. And the jury must unanimously agree on “the existence of at least one aggravating factor.” The new law also prohibits the judge from sentencing a defendant to death if the jury recommends life imprisonment instead.

At issue in the case the justices heard on Tuesday is whether the new law applies to cases pending at the time the new law took effect. The Court is already considering whether the death sentence of another defendant, Timothy Lee Hurst — whose case, Hurst vs. Florida, led the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the state’s death penalty law unconstitutional — should be reduced to life. That decision may affect other death row inmates.

Court Considers Whether to Overturn Open Carry Ban

On Wednesday, the Florida Supreme Court heard a case challenging the state’s open carry ban. Currently, state law makes it illegal to openly carry a firearm in public, even among Floridians with concealed weapons permits.

The case was brought by Dale Norman, a concealed weapons permit holder who was arrested in 2012 for carrying a visible gun.

Earlier this year, the state legislature failed to pass a bill that would have overturned the ban. If the Court decides to overturn the ban, it could allow Floridians to openly carry firearms in plain view. According to media reports, the justices appeared divided over the issue.