Florida court cases involving the death penalty have been in a state of limbo since January 2016 when the United States Supreme Court ruled that the state’s death penalty sentencing law was unconstitutional due to the fact that it gave too much power to judges with regards to sentencing. Since that ruling, capital punishment cases around the state have been on hold, as the state legislature and state Supreme Court have been working to establish a constitutional standard for capital punishment in the state of Florida. However, recently the Florida Supreme Court made a surprising ruling regarding current cases.
As of February 20, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Florida prosecutors can seek the death penalty in ongoing cases. Prior to this ruling, death penalty sentences had been on hold since October 2016 due to the ongoing constitutionality issues. Among the concerns is that the state law does not require the constitutionally mandated unanimous jury decision to recommend death.
Unresolved Issues with Florida Death Penalty Remain
The rules associated with the death penalty in the state of Florida have been in the process of changing over the past year, which is what has kept many ongoing and future capital punishment cases in a state of uncertainty. The original Florida law, which gave too much power to judges instead of juries when it came to awarding the death penalty, was contested last January in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Hurst v. Florida.
Jurors in the original Hurst murder case were split 7-5 on recommending capital punishment, but a Florida judge ruled to impose death. The state Supreme Court upheld the judge’s ruling, which led to appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The state legislature then amended the law to require 10 out of 12 jurors to recommend death, prior to the state Supreme Court demanding a change to the law that should require the constitutional unanimous jury decision in all capital punishment cases. The state legislature is in the process of complying with the Court’s requirement through pending bills to be discussed in March’s legislative session.
In any case involving the need of a criminal defense due to arrest, it is important to immediately consult with a criminal defense attorney who can help protect the rights of someone accused of a crime. A charge does not automatically mean a conviction, and experienced criminal defense attorneys will be able to help the accused determine whether certain rights were violated in any part of the arrest process. The events and investigations leading up to and including arrest, trial, and subsequent appeals can be extremely confusing and stressful for the accused individual(s). Criminal defense attorneys can be the best ally of someone who needs expertise in navigating the intricacies of the Florida court system.
Press, A. (2017, February 20). Florida prosecutors can seek death penalty despite questions. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/breaking-news/os-ap-florida-prosecutors-can-seek-death-penalty-despite-questions-20170220-story.html
Kam, D. (2017, February 21). Death penalty fix wins panel’s OK. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/politics/political-pulse/os-death-penalty-judiciary-20170221-story.html