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Florida Supreme Court Rules Unanimous Jury Needed for Death Penalty

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A recent ruling came down from the Florida Supreme Court that overturned the current death penalty law in the state. This case was decided on remand from the United States Supreme Court.

The Case

This case was called Hurst v. Florida and the underlying case was about the sentence imposed on Timothy Hurst after he was found guilty of murdering the manager of the fast food place where he worked. In the original case the jury had decided to impose the death penalty with a non-unanimous vote, which was allowed under the recently passed Florida death penalty statute. The defendant challenged the sentence of death by arguing that Florida’s death penalty statute was unconstitutional, and therefore inapplicable.

The Original Death Penalty Law

Earlier this year, Florida implemented an overhaul of their death penalty law after it was found unconstitutional by allowing judges to make the final decision about the death penalty. The law, as it was passed in March, gave juries the final says of whether the death penalty is imposed in a case. It also increased the number of jurors that had to agree on a death sentence from 7-5 to 10-2. However, the Florida Supreme Court still found this new law did not meet the constitutional requirements for a valid death penalty scheme.  

This Ruling

With most death penalty cases, including this one, the ultimate question is whether the scheme is constitutional and does not violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The recent opinion on this case by the Florida Supreme Court makes it clear that for the death penalty to be imposed there needs to be unanimous finding by the jury that death is the appropriate sentence. Not only that, but jurors must also be unanimous on the aggravating factor that makes someone eligible for the death sentence in the first place. They also must be unanimous in their decision about whether or not there are mitigating factors that outweigh the aggravating factors.

What it Means for Florida

Essentially, this case means that there is currently no applicable death penalty statute in Florida that meets Constitutional muster. In order to have the option of the death penalty in cases, Florida must pass a new statute that requires a unanimous jury in the issues discussed above. Some commentators are nervous about this new requirement because they estimate that only 20% of death penalty cases in Florida have a unanimous jury verdict.

For Mr. Hurst, the defendant, it means that his case will be remanded back to circuit court for a new determination of penalty, though prosecutors may wait until a new death penalty law is in place. 

West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you have been charged with a crime, you should contact a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to help defend you against the charges. Skilled defense attorneys can identify when the law is unconstitutional and challenge it in court, thereby getting their client’s sentences reduced or dismissed. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys at The Skier Law Firm in West Palm Beach, Florida, can provide a zealous defense against any criminal charges.

Resource:

floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2016/sc12-1947.pdf

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