U.S. Supreme Court Finds Florida Death Penalty Sentencing Unconstitutional

Jan 12, 2016

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The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled Florida’s system for sentencing people to death is unconstitutional.

Florida is one of only three states that does not require a unanimous jury decision to sentence a person to death. Under current law, a simple majority is enough to recommend the death penalty. But the judge is not required to follow that recommendation. U.S. Supreme Court Justices ruled 8-1 Tuesday that Florida’s sentencing process gives judges too much power and takes power away from juries.

The ruling is based on the case of Timothy Lee Hurst, who murdered his manager at a Popeyes restaurant in Pensacola. Hurst’s jury voted 7-5 in favor of the death penalty and the judge imposed the sentence.

The high court has ordered a new sentencing hearing for Hurst.

Florida State University legal scholar Mark Schlackman says it’s going to take a while to unravel what the ruling means for people currently on Death Row:

“There will be those out there who say no, the application of this case is just to Hurst. There will be those who argue that it applies to Florida’s entire death row. And some will say cases that are similarly situated it would make sense it would apply to them. So these issues have to be clarified," he said.

Meanwhile, Cape Canaveral Republican Senator Thad Altman has filed legislation that would require a unanimous jury decision to hand down a death sentence. He’s filed similar legislation in the past. Schlackman says the bill is a logical starting point. He says the state had been warned about problems with its death penalty procedures for the past decade.