Florida Supreme Court Rules That Previous Decision Mandating Unanimous Jury for Death Penalty Was Wrong
A Florida Supreme Court ruling in late January finding that the Court erred in 2016 when it ruled that a jury must be unanimous in sentencing a defendant to death has now placed a number of death penalty cases in legal limbo. Specifically, the majority opinion said that the state Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment does not require a unanimous jury recommendation, or any jury recommendation, before a death sentence can be imposed. Criminal justice advocates are now trying to determine what this means for existing cases and resentencing, as well as the myriad of serious constitutional issues for the cases for which relief is potentially being removed.
Since the 2016 ruling, almost 150 death row inmates who had been sentenced to death with non-unanimous jury decisions were granted new sentencing hearings, and it is now unclear as to whether they will be subject to another round of sentencing. Those who have already been re-sentenced to life in prison likely cannot be resentenced, as there is a very strong argument that this would be ex post facto law, which is unconstitutional. In addition, under the current law, defendants still require a unanimous jury decision to receive the death penalty.
The Effect Of The 2016 Decision
The 2016 decision came out of the finding that the judge had too much weight in the decision. As a result, executions were halted for months while the legislature attempted to address the issue and state Supreme Court weighed in as well. In 2017, the law was then changed to acquire a unanimous jury decision. A number of death penalty cases were returned to trial court for new sentences, while some prosecutors simply agreed to sentences of life without parole in order to avoid new sentencing hearings.
A Social Justice Issue
Many have also pointed out that this decision returns Florida to the status is an outlier among the jurisdictions in the country that do not require unanimous jury decision to impose the death penalty. Alabama is the only other state that does not require a unanimous jury decision to do so. There is a significant amount of evidence indicating that both racial disparities and wrongful convictions apply when it comes to the death penalty, which indicates that requiring a unanimous jury is fundamental to ensuring fairness.
Consult an Orlando Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are facing any kind of criminal charges, whether capital or not, your best option is to secure the assistance of the best criminal defense attorney in Florida. The dedicated team of Orlando criminal defense attorneys at The Baez Law Firm has defended all types of cases throughout the state of Florida. We are dedicated to securing the best outcome for your case. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.