Supremes Hear Arguments In Hurst Death Penalty Case

May 5, 2016

Credit Nick Evans

Florida’s high court is deliberating the fate of Timothy Hurst—the death row inmate whose case prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out the Florida’s capital sentencing scheme.  But some on the bench have doubts about newly passed sentencing procedures.

The state argues Hurst’s death sentence should stand, but failing that, he should be resentenced under a system passed earlier this year.  But Justice Barbara Pariente worries the new system might not meet constitutional muster either.

“The worst thing would be—if we don’t agree with the defendant—would be to start down a path of a new statute that has unconstitutional infirmities that we then are applying to all these pending prosecutions,” Pariente says.

She questions the statute’s requirement of just one aggravating factor and the use of a 10-2 vote for the recommendation of death.  Meanwhile Hurst’s lawyer Dave Davis argues a 1970s era law requiring death be commuted to life if the death penalty is found unconstitutional should apply in his case.  Some court watchers go further and believe that law should apply to all 390 inmates convicted under the invalidated system. 

But Davis cautions his focus is simply on his client.

“That’s one of the points I wanted to make sure the court understood: I represent Timothy Hurst,” Davis says.  “As to Timothy Hurst, he should get a life sentence.  I’m going to leave it to the Florida Supreme Court and other lawyers to sort how much retroactivity it gets.”

The state contends the law doesn’t apply because the higher court ruling invalidated a sentencing procedure—not the death penalty.