Death Sentences Require Unanimous Jury, Florida Supreme Court Rules
The Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday that the death penalty cannot be imposed without the unanimous support of a jury, deepening the recent turmoil around capital punishment in a state with a long history of executions.One of Friday’s decisions, in a case that previously reached the United States Supreme Court and upended Florida’s death penalty system, said that the Eighth Amendment, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment, and Florida state law effectively mandated consensus in capital cases. The court said in a separate case that a new state law, which allowed for the death penalty when 10 of 12 jurors agreed, was unconstitutional.
“Requiring unanimous jury recommendations of death before the ultimate penalty may be imposed will ensure that in the view of the jury — a veritable microcosm of the community — the defendant committed the worst of murders with the least amount of mitigation,” the Florida court said in siding with Timothy L. Hurst, a death row inmate whose appeal led lawmakers early this year to rewrite the state’s death penalty law.
Referring to a 1958 United States Supreme Court opinion invoking the Eighth Amendment, the Florida court added, “This is in accord with the goal that capital sentencing laws keep pace with ‘evolving standards of decency.’”
Nearly all of the 30 states with capital punishment require that a jury unanimously support a death sentence, and the Florida justices said their ruling would allow the state to “achieve the important goal of bringing its capital sentencing laws into harmony with the direction of society reflected in all these states and with federal law.”
The decisions, however, left unsettled the status of capital punishment in Florida and came about seven months after the state revamped its death penalty in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. The overhaul, which the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott approved in March, required juries to reach conclusions about the aggravating factors that are crucial to death penalty decisions.