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Legislators Want Death Sentences Unanimous

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A  Republican lawmaker is trying again to require Florida juries to vote unanimously to recommend a death sentence. The attempt usually goes nowhere, but this year supporters say there’s a new wrinkle.

Florida is the only state that doesn’t require a jury to vote unanimously to recommend a death sentence. And that’s not justice, says Ingrid Delgado, an associate with the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“We’re not then encouraging that jury to really deliberate and discuss if this case really is death eligible, if it merits a death sentence.”

Reform-minded legislators have been trying for years to change the system and bills are already filed for 2016. But this year Delgado says things are different. The U.S. Supreme Court is about to hear a direct challenge to Florida’s death penalty sentencing procedure, including non-unanimous recommendations.

But death penalty supporters say they’re not too worried. The existing system survived numerous federal challenges and the Supreme Court seemed satisfied when it upheld Florida’s death penalty in 1976.

Northwest Florida State Attorney Glenn Hess, head of the statewide prosecutors association, says the system gives juries more of a chance to fit the punishment to the crime.

“You may have Jack the Ripper, and you may have one soft-hearted juror who says, ‘Oh, I can’t vote for death,’ and Jack the Ripper may not get the death penalty. And that would violate the concept of proportionality.”

The court is scheduled to hear the case on October 13.