Florida Supreme Court Throws Law into Chaos by Removing Unanimity Requirement for Death Penalty
A recent ruling out of the Florida Supreme Court indicating that it erred in 2016 when it ruled that a jury must be unanimous in sentencing a defendant to death has a number of criminal defendants and criminal justice advocates concerned and has unquestionably muddled existing law, leaving many wondering whether the state legislature will now take action to address the issue, and what will happen to dozens of current death row cases
In its recent decision, the Court appeared to base its reversal on a commitment to “obtaining justice and closure for the victims and their families.” The case – and death sentence – was based on a murder that occurred of a man who was trying to defend a pregnant woman who was allegedly being attacked by the defendant.
Will The Law Now Permanently Change?
While criminal defense experts are calling the decision nothing short of astonishing, the state legislature is already wrapping up its annual session, meaning that it appears that the law will remain as is for now. This leaves a significant amount of confusion in place, as, although the state Supreme Court has now said that a unanimous jury is no longer required for a death sentence, state law now dictated that it is because the legislature updated the law in 2017 after the 2016 Court decision to require unanimity of the jury. Still, that does not necessarily mean that the state legislature will come back and roll back the unanimity requirement; in fact, statements made by some senators thus far is that they do not plan on doing so.
What Will Happen to Those On Death Row?
After the 2016 ruling, those who had been sentenced to death without a unanimous jury were granted new sentencing hearings. Some have hypothesized that those who already had their resentencing hearings will not be affected, however, those who have pending hearings could have them reviewed for compliance with the recent case based on how many jurors voted for death and if the judge overruled that.
An Argument for Unanimity
Given the significant amount of evidence that there are not only a number of wrongful convictions that result in death, but racial disparities also play a significant role in death sentences, there is no question that requiring a unanimous jury is fundamental to ensuring fairness, as has been determined by a majority of states. Alabama is the only state in the country that does not require a unanimous jury for the death penalty. Even with the higher standard in place since 2017, Florida led the country in having the highest number of new death sentences in 2019. In 2016, the Florida Supreme Court originally ruled that allowing for the death penalty without a unanimous jury was unconstitutional because it allowed for too much discretion from the judge.
Contact Our Florida Criminal Defense Attorney with Any Questions
If you have been charged with a crime in Florida or have any questions related to criminal defense, contact West Palm Beach criminal attorney William Wallshein today.