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Can Florida Prosecutors Seek The Death Penalty?

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Since the January 2016 Supreme Court ruling in Hurst v. Florida, death penalty legislation in Florida has been in a state of uncertainty. The Supreme Court ruled Florida’s capital punishment sentencing laws are unconstitutional, noting that judges in the state have too much power in determining a sentence. The ruling has essentially put all death penalty cases across the state on hold, as Florida lawmakers work to develop a more constitutional standard for cases involving the death penalty.

Is the Death Penalty Currently an Option?

As of October 2016, any potential death penalty sentence has been put on hold in the state of Florida. However, on February 20, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court came forward and surprised much of the Florida legal community by ruling that prosecutors are now able to seek the death penalty in ongoing cases. This ruling comes in lieu of the fact that lawmakers have yet to establish any new system to address unconstitutionality of the current system.

Current Issues with the Florida Death Penalty

Among the most prevalent concerns with Florida’s current death penalty legislation is the fact that the state does require a unanimous jury decision to sentence an individual to death. This issue was brought to the attention of the nation in Hurst v. Florida when a Florida Judge sentenced the defendant, Timothy Lee Hurst, to death while only seven of the 12 jurors assigned to the case recommended the death penalty.

The ruling sparked outrage across the state, ultimately leading to the appeal of the case up to the United States Supreme Court. During the appeals process, the Florida legislature amended state law requiring 10 of 12 jurors to recommend capital punishment for an individual to be sentenced to death. However, during the appeals process the Supreme Court Florida mandated that laws require a unanimous jury decision in the event that the jury recommends a sentence of death.

In hearing the case, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor opined “The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death…A jury’s mere recommendation is not enough.” Justice Sotomayor continued stating the law is unconstitutional as it leaves obligation on the judge, not the jury, to find the facts essential to imposing a sentence of capital punishment. Further, Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer noted that the Florida death penalty legislation is a violation of the Eighth Amendment protecting individuals against cruel and unusual punishment. Ultimately, these findings placed the burden on the state of Florida to revise their system a develop legislation that abides by the Supreme Court’s ruling–a process that the Florida legislature is attempting to comply with and is set discuss various proposals at the end of the March 2017 legislative session.

Consult With A Criminal Defense Lawyer

In the event that you are charged with a crime, it is important that you immediately reach out to a criminal defense lawyer. A charge by does not mean you will be convicted, and an experienced defense lawyer will be able to protect your rights and fight for your freedom. At the Baez Law Firm, our team understands the seriousness of a seemingly benign charge and they are ready to aggressively represent you in your case. Call the Baez Law Firm today at 800-588-BAEZ for to schedule your free consultation.

Resource:

law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/14-7505

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