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Florida Supreme Court Shoots Down State’s Death Penalty Law

Florida is not having much luck hanging on to its death penalty.

Back in January, the U.S. Supreme Court said an element of Florida’s death penalty law was unconstitutional because it declared that judges, rather than juries, ultimately decide if convicted criminals are to be executed for their crimes. Specifically, Florida law allowed at that time for juries to merely recommend a death sentence that may or may not ultimately be imposed by the judge. The U.S. Supreme Court found that provision to be unconstitutional, saying that Sixth Amendment to the Constitution demands that juries, not judges, are to make the necessary determination of facts regarding the imposition of the death penalty.

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Now, this past Friday, Florida’s Supreme Court shot down the state’s death penalty law on the basis that it did not require jury verdicts to be unanimous in imposing the sentence, saying, in part, that “just as elements of a crime must be found unanimously by a Florida jury, all these findings necessary for the jury to essentially convict a defendant of capital murder—thus allowing imposition of the death penalty—are also elements that must be found unanimously by the jury.”

The case at issue for the Florida jurists was that of Timothy Lee Hurst, a Pensacola, Florida man convicted of murder. A 12-member jury had previously recommended death for Mr. Hurst by a vote of 7-5. Hurst will now be granted a new sentencing hearing.

As a result of this latest ruling, Florida essentially has no death penalty in Florida until the legislature decides how to proceed.

While many proponents of capital punishment will disagree, for my part, I’m happy to see this. Despite my strong conservative politics, overall, I am no fan of death penalty administration in the United States, because I’m no fan of criminal justice administration, more generally. While I remain “sold” on the death penalty from a philosophical perspective, in that I believe people who murder forfeit the right to hang on to their own lives, the justice system is replete with dishonesty, corruption, and opportunism to a degree that demands, in my opinion, that the power of life and death be removed from its hands.

By Robert G. Yetman, Jr. Editor At Large