Florida Supreme Court rules new death penalty law unconstitutional
The Florida Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the state’s new death penalty law is unconstitutional because it does not require juries to be unanimous in recommending capital punishment.
Executions in Florida, home to the nation’s second-largest death row, have been on hold since the U.S. Supreme Court in January struck down the state’s death penalty sentencing laws.
The high court’s 8-1 ruling invalidated the process by which a judge sentenced Timothy Hurst to death for the 1998 murder of a fried-chicken restaurant manager. The ruling found that Florida had given judges powers that juries should wield in determining eligibility for execution.
The Florida legislature responded to the ruling this spring by rewriting the state’s death sentencing laws. Legislators passed a law requiring at least 10 of 12 jurors to support capital punishment in murder cases, instead of a simple majority.
But that law “is unconstitutional because it requires that only ten jurors recommend death as opposed to the constitutionally required unanimous, twelve-member jury,” the state’s high court found on Friday.
The court said the law, which required juries to unanimously agree on the facts, or aggravating factors, warranting capital punishment, could not be applied to pending prosecutions.
In a separate ruling also released on Friday, the Florida Supreme Court ordered Hurst’s death sentence to be vacated and sent his case back to a lower court for a new penalty phase hearing.
The court, however, stopped short of commuting his sentence to life as some advocates had urged.
It was not immediately clear how many cases would be impacted by the decisions.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Bernadette Baum)