FL Supremes Demand Unanimous Death Penalty Decisions

Oct 14, 2016

Credit Ammodramus via Wikimedia Commons

The Florida Supreme Court has ruled capital sentences in the state must be unanimous, and it has sent a death row inmate back to court for a new penalty hearing.

Florida’s death row inmates have been in limbo since January when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the state’s capital sentencing system.  Now the state’s high court is invalidating a 10 out of 12 juror requirement hastily approved by the Legislature.  Rob Smith is the head of the Harvard Fair Punishment Project.

“Every finding that’s critical to the imposition of a death sentence must be made by a unanimous jury, and so that means that the Florida statute as it’s written—even this new updated statute—is unconstitutional.”

Smith’s group tracks death sentences, and a recent report highlighted 16 outlier counties leading the country in capital convictions—four are in Florida.

“I think that what we found in our study that we released this week on the outliers death penalty counties which named four Florida counties—Duval, Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Miami—is that 86 percent of the cases in those places were non-unanimous verdicts.”

There are currently 385 men and women on Florida’s death row, and after Friday’s ruling, many could get new hearings of their own.

In a statement, incoming Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran lashed out, arguing the court “comes to a conclusion, then seeks a judicial pathway, however tortured, to achieve its desired result.” 

Only one other state—Alabama—allows for non-unanimous juries.