breaking news

Threat forces evacuation of Delray Beach Walmart

Scott signs death penalty fix: Florida now requires unanimous decision


After more than a year of uncertainty, Florida is again poised to begin executions and prosecute death penalty cases after Gov. Rick Scott signed a law Monday aimed at fixing flaws in the state’s capital sentencing procedure.

“Governor Scott’s foremost concern is always for the victims and their loved ones. He hopes this legislation will allow families of these horrific crimes to get the closure they deserve,” Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in a statement early Monday evening.

RELATED: More Florida Legislature coverage

The new law — the second death penalty “fix” in a year — came in response to a series of court rulings, set off by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in January 2016 in a case known as Hurst v. Florida.

The 8-1 opinion, premised on a 2002 ruling in a case known as Ring v. Arizona, found that Florida’s system of allowing judges, instead of juries, to find the facts necessary to impose the death penalty was an unconstitutional violation of the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.

The Legislature last year hurriedly passed a law to address the federal court ruling, but the Florida Supreme Court struck down the new statute. Florida justices said the law was unconstitutional because it only required 10 of 12 jurors to recommend death, instead of unanimous jury decisions.

The state and federal court rulings — and others related to it — created confusion regarding Florida’s death penalty, with circuit judges split on whether they could move forward with capital cases until the Legislature addressed the issue of unanimity.

Although the Florida court recently decided capital cases could proceed even in the absence of a statutory fix, legislators nevertheless rushed to address the issue, making it the first bill passed by both chambers and sent to the governor by the end of the first week of the 2017 legislative session.

The Florida Senate unanimously approved the proposal (SB 280) Thursday, and the House approved the measure by a 112-3 vote the following day.

Under the law, juries will have to unanimously recommend death for the sentence to be imposed on defendants convicted of capital crimes.

With nearly 400 inmates on Death Row, Florida has more prisoners facing execution than almost any other state.

As of last year, Florida was one of only three states — along with Alabama and Delaware, which has since blocked the death penalty — that did not require unanimous jury recommendations for death sentences to be imposed.

At the time, Florida required only a simple majority of jurors to recommend death. But the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hurst, which did not address the unanimity issue, forced Florida lawmakers to reconsider the state’s entire capital sentencing system.

The “fix” authorized by lawmakers last year, and signed by Scott, required, among other things, at least 10 jurors to recommend death. But a majority of the Florida Supreme Court decided that the state’s constitutional right to trial by jury required unanimous jury recommendations, as in every other jury verdict, for death to be imposed.

Lawmakers backing this year’s effort maintained that, even if they disagreed with the court-ordered unanimity requirement, they were willing to back the change to put the state’s death penalty system back on track.

“It was important to me that, in the very first week of session, that we address this issue so we have a constitutional statute — as juries are being selected and as families of victims are in court in very stressful circumstances and in very difficult circumstances, we want a law that is orderly and structured and constitutional,” Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said Thursday, after his chamber’s vote.

But public defenders and criminal defense lawyers contend that the state law remains flawed.

Requiring unanimous jury recommendations is “only one step in a long journey,” 10th Judicial Circuit Assistant Public Defender Pete Mills told The News Service of Florida on Friday.

“Florida’s death penalty still has problems of constitutional magnitude, including but not limited to the failure to limit the scope of its application, racial disparities, geographic disparities, and execution of the mentally ill,” Mills, chairman of the Florida Public Defenders Association Death Penalty Steering Committee, said after the House overwhelmingly approved the measure.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

Local GOP leaders: Democrats shouldn’t read much into Roy Moore’s loss
Local GOP leaders: Democrats shouldn’t read much into Roy Moore’s loss

Democrats locally and nationally should not be quick to discern a political sea change in Tuesday night’s Alabama U.S. Senate election, current and former leaders of Palm Beach County’s Republican Party said Wednesday. In the vote to replace U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, now the U.S. Attorney General, in what traditionally is a deep-red southern...
#ThankYouAlabama: Doug Jones wins Senate seat over Roy Moore, Twitter celebrates
#ThankYouAlabama: Doug Jones wins Senate seat over Roy Moore, Twitter celebrates

News that Alabama voters chose Tuesday to send Democrat Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate over embattled Republican Roy Moore was greeted with relief and joy on social media. Moore was considered a favorite to take the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions early in the race, but his grip on the position slipped amid a flurry of sexual misconduct...
Omarosa to leave White House post
Omarosa to leave White House post

Omarosa Manigault Newman, the “Apprentice” star turned White House aide, will leave from her position in President Donald Trump’s administration next month, officials confirmed Wednesday. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Manigault Newman’s resignation will be effective Jan. 20, the one-year anniversary...
Roy Moore thought his stance on abortion would lead him to victory. It didn’t.
Roy Moore thought his stance on abortion would lead him to victory. It didn’t.

Roy Moore's campaign had one weapon that seemed to offer his supporters a counterweight to the allegations that he had pursued teenaged girls when he was in his 30s: abortion.  In the run-up to Tuesday's special election for U.S. Senate, the Alabama Republican denied any improper sexual behavior, but also went on the offensive against Democrat...
Winners and losers from the Alabama special election
Winners and losers from the Alabama special election

After what seems like years, the Alabama special election is over. The race to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Senate featured votes spanning nearly four full months, featured one bizarre turn after another, and ended Tuesday night with Democrat Doug Jones pulling off the upset over Roy Moore, who faced allegations that he sexual assaulted...
More Stories