The Florida Supreme Court on Friday declared the State’s death penalty law as unconstitutional as it does not require a unanimous jury decision to impose the sentence. Florida law only required 10 out of 12 votes to approve death penalty.
In the 5 to 2 ruling, the Judges concluded 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.”
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Charles T. Canady, joined by Justice Ricky Polston, observed that the other Judges “fundamentally” misunderstood the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in January and said they are “unnecessarily disrupting the administration of the death penalty in Florida.”
One of the cases before the Court, Hurst v. Florida, had come before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in January this year, wherein SCOTUS had declared Florida’s death penalty system as unconstitutional because it allowed Judges, rather than juries to determine whether a convicted criminal should be awarded a death sentence. A nine Judge Bench, by 8-1 majority, had ruled that this law violated the Sixth Amendment which protects a defendant’s right to an impartial jury. It had hence invalidated a Florida Judge’s sentencing ruling that Timothy Hurst should be executed for a 1998 murder. You may read the LiveLaw article here.
In response to the ruling, the State had introduced a new measure in March, increasing the number of jurors needed to approve a death sentence, pushing it to 10 from 7.
In another ruling handed down on Friday, in Perry v. Florida, the Florida Supreme Court held that updated death penalty statute could not be constitutionally applied to pending cases, because it does not require unanimous juries.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Court’s decisions mean that the state “effectively has no death penalty.” It hence places in question the fate of 385 prisoners on Florida’s death row, since their cases must now be reviewed and, in some cases, retried.
Read the Judgment here.
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