In a groundbreaking case, the process by which many Florida individuals are sentence to death has been deemed unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court. The 8-1 ruling could be the harbinger of major changes to the death penalty not just in Florida, but nationwide as well.
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The Process is Unconstitutional, Not the Penalty
This SCOTUS decision addressed the process by which 37-year-old Timothy Lee Hurst was sentenced to death – not the penalty itself. Hurst, who was convicted of brutally murdering a coworker in 1998, was recommended for the death penalty by the jury. Per Florida state law, however, the judge is granted power to disregard the jury’s recommendation, and impose their own sentence.
In Hurst v. Florida, No. 14-7505, the judge actually held a separate hearing to determine whether sufficient evidence to sentence him to death – ultimately determining that such a sentence was appropriate. The Supreme Court found that this process was a clear violation of Hurst’s Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury, claiming that the amendment “requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death.”
A Sign of Changes to Come?
According to the ACLU, more than 10% of the nation’s inmates who have been sentenced to death are currently on Florida’s death row. This ruling will undoubtedly bring further legal challenges from at least some of the inmates, and possibly many others throughout the country.
Furthermore, this ruling could also set the stage for major nationwide changes to the death penalty. Both the constitutionality, as well as the practicality of the death penalty have been under attack for decades. Critics have claimed that the manner of execution is typically cruel and unusual punishment, and others have suggested that the incredibly high cost of appeals costs the taxpayer more than life imprisonment.
At The Law Office of Michael Mirer, P.A., our Miami criminal defense lawyer is committed to the rights and freedom of our clients. If you or a loved one are facing charges, contact us immediately for your free initial consultation.