FL Supremes Return To Unanimity Question In Death Row Case

Jun 7, 2016

Credit Nick Evans

The Florida Supreme Court Tuesday took up a case that could spell trouble for the state’s new capital sentencing system.  The court is deciding whether Florida should require unanimous jury recommendations for the death penalty.

Of the thirty one death penalty states in the U.S., only three do not require unanimity throughout the sentencing process.  The Florida Legislature moved from a simple majority to a 10-2 juror standard in the wake of a major U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.  But lawmakers’ refusal to go all the way to unanimity doesn’t sit well with Florida’s courts.  And in oral argument Tuesday Justice Barbara Pariente raised the concern.

“We’ve got to look at the statute now which one judge has declared unconstitutional completely and decide whether there’s a constitutional statute that can be applied to pending prosecutions,” Pariente pointed out to attorney Martin McClain.

Miami Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch found the new system unconstitutional because it doesn’t require a unanimous jury at the final sentencing decision.  Defense attorneys argue with so many other states requiring unanimity, Florida’s scheme violates Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.