Until January 12, 2016, Florida was one of only three states to sentence prisoner’s to death without the unanimous agreement of a jury, and as a result Florida had become a national leader in new death sentences — growing the nation’s second largest death row of more than 400 prisoners.
That day, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hurst v. Florida that Florida’s capital-sentencing scheme violated the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial of one’s peers. Ten months later, in October of 2016, the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion clarifying how Hurst would be applied, and reversed the death sentence of Timothy Hurst, whose sentencing jury was not unanimous. The Florida Legislature has since changed the statute to require unanimous juries moving forward.
Responding to the decision, ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon stated, “Florida racked up hundreds of death sentences based on non-unanimous jury recommendations. We applaud the courts’ recent rulings that Florida’s scheme violated the Constitution, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to put this issue to rest once and for all. It cannot be consistent with any sense of justice that a unanimous jury is required to find someone guilty, but a simple majority can put someone to death.”
But the Florida Attorney General would not give up efforts to save the old scheme, and the death sentences imposed under it. Attorney General Bondi filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court urging the Court to revisit the entire issue, arguing that the Florida Supreme Court incorrectly applied the U.S. Constitution. On Monday, the Supreme Court closed that door by denying the Attorney General’s petition.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. So has the Florida Supreme Court. The old scheme Florida used to build a mammoth death row violated the Sixth Amendment. It is now time to empty death row to the small selection of prisoners sentenced by unanimous juries,” added Brian Stull, senior staff attorney from the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project.
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