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Florida Lawmakers Agree on Death Penalty "Compromise"


Last month, the US Supreme Court ruled that Florida's death penalty procedure was unconstitutional, throwing all current capital cases in limbo until state law could be corrected. Now, Florida lawmakers have a bill that they believe will satisfy the high court's requirements and allow our criminal justice system to continue to try and prosecute these cases.

As the Tampa Bay Times reports, The Senate Appropriations Committee and state House of Representatives have come to an agreement that, in all future capital cases, the death penalty can only be sentenced when 10 to 12 jurors recommend it. The provision was added to the Senate bill 7068 and is identical to Alabama's statute governing the same courtroom procedure.

Voices of Dissent

The bill did not pass unanimously. Six legislators opposed the bill: Senators Thad Altman (Melbourne), Anitere Flores (Miami), Don Gaetz (Niceville), Arthenia Joyner (Tampa), Gwen Margolis (Miami) and Bill Montford (Tallahassee). "I do not believe that we need to diminish our position constitutionally, based on what the House would like," Altman argued. Previously, Altman has filed bills that require unanimous jury decisions for death sentences.

Public defenders also support a unanimous jury requirement for death penalty sentencing. Public Defender Rex Dimmig told the paper that that the "10-2" law will likely result in lawsuits against death row inmates who have already been sentenced. Under current Florida law, it only takes a simple 7-5 majority for the death penalty to be sentenced.

Right to a Jury Trial

For the Supreme Court, it wasn't Florida's jury voting system that violated the US Constitution, but the judges' ability to overturn the jury's decision. Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, Florida judges could either reject or accept a jury's death penalty determination depending on their consideration of "new evidence," which justices believed violated the accused's right to a jury trial. It was found that this judicial intervention had been exercised hundreds of times in Florida since the 1970s.

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