Recent state court decisions and amendments to the laws surrounding the constitutionality of death penalty sentencing practices in Florida are being challenged by judges in multiple cases. In the most recent development, a Miami-Dade judge found the death penalty to be unconstitutional based on the fact that it does not require unanimity of the jury. Florida Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch put it this way: “A decedent cannot be more or less dead. An expectant mother cannot be more or less pregnant. And a jury cannot be more or less unanimous. Every verdict in every criminal case in Florida requires the concurrence, not of some, not of most, but of all jurors – every single one of them.”
Former State Supreme Court Justices weigh in
Three former Florida Supreme Court Justices filed a brief urging the current court to suspend 390 death penalty cases in response to the case of the appeal of Timothy Lee Hurst. In January of this year, Hurst’s appeal was heard by the Florida Supreme Court, and they found that his death penalty conviction was unconstitutional because it gave too little weight to the jury.
The brief filed by the former Chief Justices argued that all other death penalty sentences meted out prior to Hurst’s 1998 conviction in the stabbing death of Cindy Harrison are also unconstitutional. Hurst was sentenced to death by a jury split 7-5 in favor of the sentence, and of the 16 “aggravating factors” that can merit a death sentence, he was found guilty of one.
New law may not go far enough, Circuit Court Judge rules
A new law passed in response to the Hurst case required the jury to agree unanimously on the aforementioned aggravating factors and to reach a 10 out of 12 majority on a death sentence. The State Supreme Court did not make a definitive ruling on the Hurst case, but the debate in Florida’s courts is far from over.
In the most recent development, Florida Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch issued a ruling on May 9th in the case of Karen Gaiter, who was convicted in a 2012 shooting. He stated in his decision that the jury majority in the reformed law does not go far enough, that unanimity should be required to uphold a death penalty conviction. Hirsch’s decision ensures that the constitutionality of Florida’s death penalty laws will remain under scrutiny as judges question the scope of the new law. Death sentence convictions, both former and pending, hang in the balance as the debate continues.
All allegations of criminal misconduct are serious, particularly matters concerning life and death. The services of a criminal defense attorney are of utmost importance if you are charged with any crime.
Bousquet, Steve. “Former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justices Urge Court to Overturn Hundreds of Death Sentences.” www.miamiherald.com, 3 May 2016. Web. 11 May 2016.
Bousquet, Steve. “State Supreme Court Considers Overturning Death Sentences.” www.tampabay.com, 5 May 2016. Web. 11 May 2016.
Ovalle, David. “Judge Says State Death-penalty Law is Unconstitutional.” www.miamiherald.com, 9 May 2016. Web. 11 May 2016