Supreme Court

Supreme Court Rules for Florida Death Row Inmate in Sixth Amendment Case

SCOTUS releases 8-1 decision in Hurst v. Florida.

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Credit: White House / Flickr.com

Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor a Florida death row inmate who challenged his death sentence on the grounds the state's capital sentencing scheme violated his Sixth Amendment right to trial by an impartial jury. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor explained in her majority opinion in Hurst v. Florida:

A Florida jury convicted Timothy Lee Hurst of murdering his co-worker, Cynthia Harrison. A penalty-phase jury recommended that Hurst's judge impose a death sentence. Notwithstanding this recommendation, Florida law required the judge to hold a separate hearing and determine whether sufficient aggravating circumstances existed to justify imposing the death penalty. The judge so found and sentenced Hurst to death.

We hold this sentencing scheme unconstitutional. The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death. A jury's mere recommendation is not enough.

The only dissent in the case was filed by Justice Samuel Alito, who complained that the Court was departing from its precedents and rewriting its Sixth Amendment jurisprudence:

As the Court acknowledges, "this Court 'repeatedly has reviewed and upheld Florida's capital sentencing statute over the past quarter of a century.'" And as the Court also concedes, our precedents hold that "'the Sixth Amendment does not require that the specific findings authorizing the imposition of the sentence of death be made by the jury.'" The Court now reverses course, striking down Florida's capital sentencing system, overruling our decisions in Hildwin [v. Florida] and Spaziano [v. Florida], and holding that the Sixth Amendment does require that the specific findings authorizing a sentence of death be made by a jury. I disagree. [Citations omitted.]

The Supreme Court's opinion in Hurst v. Florida is available here.

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  1. “The only dissent in the case was filed by Justice Samuel Alito”

    Wait… Mr. Liberty on the SCOTUS filed a dissent about a case where any old judge can just sentence you to death? I’m confused. Maybe he’s pissed-off and confused about the death of David Bowie? We all are, Sam, we all are.

    1. What’s it like being brain damaged?

      1. Look, it’s not nice to poke fun at the mentally infirm. Just smile, nod and walk away.

      2. I feel the same way about gun laws that you do about God. Funny, that.

        1. Although I’d say both groups have about the same fervor.

        2. I feel the same way about gun laws that you do about God. Funny, that.

          Yes, lie some more.

  2. I don’t suppose the justices touched on where exactly a jury would derive the authority to order a hit on a bro?

  3. This is ultimately a procedural question, which is fine. The dude will get a jury trial and likely get the death sentence re-applied.

    It’s a shame that Reason doesn’t tend to cover the executions of people who very clearly did the crime they are being punished for. Instead, a lot of articles come out when there is a person with a shady conviction. Of course it is easy to condemn the Death Penalty when there is likely a mistake being made. However, the true test of your principles come when you are forced to defend the life of someone like Florida’s Bolin who clearly murdered three women and was convicted by jury on at least three separate trials.

    1. So throw them in a cage with three square meals a day and access to daytime TV.

      Killing (mostly brown-skinned) people are what Democrats and Republicans do.

      1. Mongo,

        No need for racism. Are most on the nation’s death row non-White? Is it a large difference? Are the non-Whites on death row apparently not guilty, or can they obviously be shown to have suffered from racial prejudice in their capital trial? If not, than the stats on whether or not the death row population meets a given quota don’t matter. But hey, you-all who love a quota will shoot for any area of life, or death.

    2. I don’t think it’s that difficult to come up with a principled argument against the death penalty. I’ve seen it happen here many times, not only in the comments but in articles and posts.

    3. It serves no legitimate social purpose?

    4. the true test of your principles come when you are forced to defend the life of someone like Florida’s Bolin who clearly murdered three women

      I am not defending Oscar Lee Bolin. My objection to agents of the state executing him is based on a belief that governments and the kinds of people who are drawn to it do not have the moral authority to kill as an act of punishment. What could be more principled than that?

      The process that has him playing hopscotch on the Green Mile is an entirely different issue.

      1. So, there’s a principled arguement for all capital punishment except for Bolin? Good to see you are noting a powerful principled arguement, there.

  4. OT – In which your humble working l0b0t tangles with a little red marxian of DerpBook (y super gracias to Old Mexican for that beautiful descriptor).

    Lo Bot – The idea that there is some material difference between national socialism, democratic socialism, and socialism is pure propaganda on the part of socialists. ALL theft, even if you call it ‘redistribution’, is immoral and evil; applying a fig-leaf of demotic populism does nothing to change its immorality. This meme is also propagating some astoundingly retarded ahistorical claims as well but one expects nothing less from folk raised exclusively on the propaganda of the victors.

    Alex Habbart – Nazis put Socialists and Communists in camps
    Nazis destroy labor unions
    Nazis never collectivize the means of production or give worker sovereignty
    The Nazis were socialist bro fjsodnhdskdmfiej!

    Lo Bot – None of which changes the fact that national socialism IS a competing flavor of socialism.

    1. Lo Bot – Also, the nazis started as a labor union (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) and fully supported ALL right thinking (to them) labor unions.

      Lo Bot – And yes, they did indeed collectivize the means of production (just ask Krups and Bayer) but not with the same goal as the little red marxians.

      Alex Habbart – They didn’t collectivize, they nationalized. Collectivization implies worker control, nationalization implies state control, and they did the latter. And they only supported their “labor union,” using state power to destroy the other ones that actually represented various work forces. The “Nazis were socialists” argument is getting pretty tired, it’s thoroughly wrong.

      1. Lo Bot – No, it is not wrong at all. WWII was a competition between 3 flavors of socialism – national socialism, marxism, and liberal democracy. Liberal democracy was, apart from the Soviet sphere of influence, triumphant. I understand that those who have a vested interest in 1 flavor deny the existence of the others but to those of us who are watching from the outside, it is merely the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy playing out. The NSDAP was not marxist socialism and it was not liberal democracy but it was still a socialist collectivist ideology.

        Alex Habbart – But it was right-wing nationalism, and implemented state capitalism and did everything in it’s power to destroy leftist groups. I think that fallacy actually makes sense here because the Nazis used socialist talking points to trick people into thinking they were representing the workers, but their actions were quite different. Calling Nazis socialists in any flavor is like calling North Korea a democratic republic because their full name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

        Lo Bot – You are presenting a living exemplum of this very fallacy – No TRUE socialist would base their collectivization upon geolocation (the NATIONAL in national socialism).

        1. Alex Habbart – Nationalization, not collectivization, again. There are socialists who are also very patriotic and xenophobic even but they would still be fighting for workplace democracy and non-market distribution, albeit for racist reasons.

          Lo Bot – Nationalization is, in fact, a form of collectivization. It is not the Marxist form to be sure, but it IS still collectivization.

          Alex Habbart – Correct, although it’s very different from socialist collectivization. Not all collectivization is bad or good, it depends on how it’s done

          1. German Nationalist Socialism existed only between 1933-45 and only in Greater Germany and their satraps.

            It has very little in common with any system today.

            1. Agreed. But it was one of the three flavors of socialism competing for world domination in WWII. I just find it amusing to watch the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy play out about an ideology other than libertarianism.

              1. Dear moron,

                There’s a difference between Francois Mitterrand and Josef Stalin. Sincerely,

                American Socialist

                1. There’s a difference between Francois Mitterrand and Josef Stalin.

                  True enough. Stalin was, at least, competent.

          2. Not all collectivization is bad or good, it depends on how it’s done

            All collectivization is bad because it concentrates power in the hands of a few people who will ultimately abuse it. No matter how good their intentions are.

          3. Not all collectivization is bad or good, it depends on how it’s done

            Always one of my favorite arguments i.e. “it’s completely legit to confiscate people’s property if it’s done the right way and/or for a good cause.”

    2. LOL… This discussion you had with that entity in the mirror is fascinating.

      Yeah, Stalin put people in the Gulag, hitler started a world war and gassed the Jews, Post-war European social democracies invested in national health care and built infrastructure. But all three are the same, really.

      1. But all three are the same, really.

        Yes, all three are filled to the gills with anti-Semites.

      2. Post-war European social democracies invested in national health care and built infrastructure

        Yes, nothing says homegrown European development like US investment, innovation, and protection.

      3. Let’s talk about where the governments got the money, labor, materials, and technology to “invest” in those things. Set aside my snarky comment above about a lot of it being from the US. The average European working gets less than half the value of his earnings, after all forms of taxation.

        Where is your paean to his contribution?

        1. The average European working person

  5. Now to take back the thread from its hijacking.

    I have read the majority decision, Breyer’s concurring opinion, and Alito’s dissent. I can only conclude:
    1. Breyer is probably the intellectually laziest current SCOTUS Justice. He is (again) relying on the 8th Amendment, which really doesn’t apply here. Yes, Steven, we all know you think the death penalty is “cruel and unusual”. But that isn’t even what counsel is arguing here.
    2. The Fla supreme court did the right thing in applying 25 years of SCOTUS precedent in upholding the death sentence.
    3. However, SCOTUS also probably did the right thing in applying the 6th Amendment and changing course. And as much as I might agree with Alito that there was no actual harm here, the normal process is to let state courts decide that. And it seems appropriate in this case as well.

    Bottom line:
    A jury should probably decide when death is on the line. And in this case, I have no reason to believe a jury won’t decide to execute this sick SOB.

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