Death Penalty

Florida Supreme Court To Allow Non-Unanimous Death Sentences

Florida has had more exonerations of death row inmates than any other state in the U.S.

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In a major decision Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court reversed a 2016 ruling and declared that split juries can recommend death sentences.

In a majority opinion, Florida's highest court ruled that it "got it wrong" when it decided that the state's death penalty scheme, which allowed death sentences to be imposed by the recommendation of non-unanimous juries, violated the Florida constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

"Lest there be any doubt, we hold that our state constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment…does not require a unanimous jury recommendation—or any jury recommendation—before a death sentence can be imposed," the majority opinion stated. "The text of our constitution requires us to construe the state cruel and unusual punishment provision in conformity with decisions of the Supreme Court interpreting the Eighth Amendment."

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida's death penalty law on Sixth Amendment grounds in 2016 because it relied too heavily on determinations by judges, rather than juries. In response, state legislators rewrote the law, but the new law only required 10 out of 12 jurors to recommend the death penalty.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled several months later that the new law violated the state constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, which the court said required a unanimous jury recommendation in death penalty cases.

Since the 2016 decision, the court has flipped from liberal-leaning to majority-conservatives.

Alabama is the only other state that allows non-unanimous jury recommendations in death penalty cases. It also allows judges to override jury recommendations in capital cases. Delaware similarly allowed non-unanimous juries to impose capital punishment, but that state's high court struck down the law in 2016.

According to a 2016 report by the Harvard Law School's Fair Punishment Project's, 89 percent of Florida and Alabama's death penalty sentences since 2010 were decided by non-unanimous juries.

In a lone dissent to Thursday's decision, Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga wrote that the majority opinion "returns Florida to its status as an absolute outlier." 

"The majority gives the green light to return to a practice that is not only inconsistent with laws of all but one of the twenty-nine states that retain the death penalty, but inconsistent with the law governing the federal death penalty," Labarga wrote. "Further, the majority removes an important safeguard for ensuring that the death penalty is only applied to the most aggravated and least mitigated of murders. In the strongest possible terms, I dissent."

According to the Florida Phoenix, Florida has had more exonerations of death row inmates than any other state in the country—roughly one for every three executions carried out by the state.

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  1. Florida has had more exonerations of death row inmates than any other state in the U.S.

    We must speed up the death penalty process, lest any innocent man go free!

  2. Clingers gonna cling.

    Especially if they find a chance to still stick it to the black guy.

    Clingers gonna cling.

    Until they are replaced.

    By their betters.

    1. Like a gecko trying to navigate a plastic wrap factory, nobody clings more than you.

    2. “Especially if they find a chance to still stick it to the black guy”

      Your bedroom proclivities should remain there bud.

  3. While it’s horrifying that Florida is lowering the bar on the standards that must be met in order to deprive a human being of not just his most fundamental right but of every other right as well, I suppose this is the natural result of climate change. Or teen vaping, whatever.

    1. Fighting climate change by lethel injection.
      It’s part of the all-of-the-above strategy to save the planet.
      Every exhaled breath is one more nail in Mother Earth’s coffin

  4. As much of a proponent of capital punishment as I am, even I think you need unanimity before you take a life.

    I can’t see this going into effect. The habeas petitions to SCOTUS on it are flying as we speak. I can’t see SCOTUS letting it slide, either.

    1. I agree with, but the jury’s problem is there is always one “Perry Mason” on every jury.

      1. Then run voir dire more competently. Harris County doesn’t seem to have a problem executing people. It’s hideously expensive, even as efficient as they’ve made the process, but they’re able to do it.

        If you’re going to deprive someone of their liberty, and of their life in this case, it is reasonable to require that everyone agree it has to be done.

        1. Or just execute them all.

          I mostly oppose the death penalty because mistakes happen and it is applies so inconsistently.
          But sometimes I just want to say that we should just shoot everyone who commits a crime of violence against another person. Probably burglars too. Then you’d see some real deterrent effect.
          Then all other crimes can be handled with fines and restitution and we don’t need prisons.

        2. Gray_Jay…I agree on the unanimity question. I had to think about that one. The price is taxpayers will now have to support these people as they sit in prison for a long time. That too, is very costly.

          1. Most times abolitionist argue about the Death Penalty, they bring up that a death row inmate costs more to put him there, keep him there, and kill him, than it would to give him life.

            Now, there are a lot of ways to bullshit that, mostly correct, claim. Death Penalty trial procedure in Texas requires a lot of extra steps that aren’t present in a non-capital case. Voir dire is usually longer and requires a much bigger preliminary jury pool. The Penalty Phase of the trial, is basically an entire trial in itself.

            I’ll expand in a bit.

            1. Once the convict becomes a capital convict, two separate and highly expensive processes begin, that don’t really exist for non-capital convicts.

              First, a complicated, lengthy, and extensive appeals process begins. Multiple layers of state and federal litigation are necessary in order for the death sentence to be finally approved and then executed. All of that costs money. The prisoner usually doesn’t have it, so tax dollars are required on both sides of the litigation.

              Second, the capital prisoner is segregated from other prisoners, in a separate wing, with unique and specialized security and supervision. Capital prisoners by definition have very little left to lose, and so security arrangements around them have to be more complete and require more manpower. Or you start losing guards to getting shivved. All of that costs money above and beyond the already expensive cost to house a prison inmate.

              Further, capital sentences are often de facto longer than “life” sentences, even if the life sentence is without parole. Everything in a prison costs the taxpayers, and everything about the prisoners is the State, and ultimately the taxpayers’ responsibility. So, if Joe Joe the Mad Dog Killer gets cancer, the prison has to pay for his medical care. If he gets old, and picks up, say, emphysema or a heart condition, the prison has to pay. Or, the prison can say. “He’s so old, he won’t hurt anybody anymore. It’s unjust to keep this old man locked up.” Release him, and then his medical bills come out of someone else’s budget.

              So it depends on which stages of the prisoner lifecycle we look at, if we’re going to try and figure out which course of action is more expensive.

    2. Their not talking about the “guilty or not guilty” phase of the trial. That has not changed. They’re talking about the sentencing (punishment) part of what Florida juries do.

    3. I don’t think SCOTUS will get involved. I do see more appeals happening though which will be more expensive for the FL taxpayers.

      1. SCOTUS smacked them down last time. This is the kind of case—a ‘Per my last ruling, assuming you can read, fuckhead’—-that they’ve historically liked taking.

        I thought the principle of their last ruling was clear: everybody needs to be on board if you whack someone. And I thought they hated it when people tried to get cute with a prior ruling and end around the text, but not the spirit of the holding.

        Or I could be completely wrong.

        1. You’re not wrong. 🙂

  5. As a left-libertarian, I want people to retain their voting rights while behind bars. So if we cannot abolish the death penalty, we should at least let death row inmates continue voting.

    #FelonsAreNaturalLibertarians

    1. #LibertariansAreNaturalFelons

      Since victimless crimes shouldn’t be crimes.

      1. but everyone is a victim now days!

  6. never set foot in Florida again yikes

  7. Never give the state the power of execution.

  8. So in addition to Florida’s continual funding of entrapment-riddled police stings and “always believe the police over our citizens” attitude, I guess we can add this to the overwhelming evidence of private prisons/corrections/bloodthirsty, angry lobbyists (Ron Book) having their hands gripped around the throats of politicians in Florida.

  9. The death sentence is a conundrum.
    The possibility of executing an innocent is there.
    But some crimes are so heinous, and some people so evil, that killing them seems like a logical way to protect the rest of us from them.

    1. All punishments might be inflicted on the innocent.

      Incarceration is inflicted gruelingly slowly, so if more evidence miraculously arises, it’s not metaphysically impossible that there will be some un-extracted punishment that could be foregone.

      It happens so rarely people only talk about it when they need to invent a reason to oppose the death penalty.

      1. Yeah, I don’t see a need to “invent” a reason to oppose the death penalty. “Killing is wrong” seems to go a long way toward that goal, and it certainly wouldn’t be in the category of “things drummed up out of whole cloth to support an argument.”

  10. Incarceration is inflicted gruelingly slowly, so if more evidence miraculously arises, it’s not metaphysically impossible that there will be some un-extracted punishment that could be foregone.

    Can someone please explain to me what that sentence is supposed to mean?

    1. I think it means that a mistaken life sentence leaves open the possibility that the mistake might be corrected and the mistaken punishment might end short of what was prescribed. You can’t give a wrongfully convicted man back his past, but you can give him back his future. Good luck trying to tell a dead man you made a mistake and he doesn’t have to be dead any more.

  11. I am glad Justice Labarga gave voice to his dissent because I agree with his position that imposition of the death penalty should not be taken so cavalierly as to allow for anything other than unanimity.

    However, I’m concerned that his opinion appears to be rooted in something other than the constitution. He talks about being an outlier and being inconsistent with other states. These are political considerations, not legal ones.

    I’m not sure how you get to “cruel and unusual punishment” from “the system of determining punishment requires 10 of 12 instead of 12 of 12”. The punishment is identical either way.

    This would appear to be a due process question, not a cruel and unusual punishment question. It might even fall under common law for the use of juries. But the original decision appears to have been entirely policy-driven instead of legally driven. And even though I agree with their policy angle, making decisions about constitutionality based on policy opinions is far more dangerous than any one wrong policy.

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