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Florida Supreme Court Mulls Death Penalty Sentencing Law Over Summer Break

Image: Florida Supreme Court building in Tallahassee

Image: Florida Supreme Court building in Tallahassee

The Florida Supreme Court moved quietly into an annual summer break last week.

In releasing its last regular batch of opinions until August 25th, the court left unresolved questions about issues such as the constitutionality of the state’s death penalty sentencing laws.

Justices have been hearing arguments in recent months about Florida’s death penalty sentencing system.

The cases are rooted in a January U.S. Supreme Court ruling that essentially said the state’s system was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges, instead of juries, in sentencing inmates to death.

The Legislature and Governor Rick Scott scrambled to approve changes to address the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which came in a case known as Hurst v. Florida.

The resulting new state law requires ten of twelve jurors to vote for death before the sentence can be imposed.

Senate President Andy Gardiner says his chamber initially wanted the measure to require a unanimous jury decision, but the Senate compromised with the House to get a law passed.

“The alternative is that you get nothing done,” Gardiner said of the compromise. “So, you have to come to some resolution to make sure that the House and the Senate are comfortable. That’s what we ultimately did.”

In cases involving numerous death row inmates, the Florida Supreme Court is trying to sort out questions such as whether the changes approved by the Legislature and Scott meet constitutional tests.

Florida is one of only three states with the death penalty that does not require jury unanimity.

There are currently 384 men and four women on death row in Florida.

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