ACLU Responds to Florida Supreme Court Ruling State’s Death Sentencing Statute Unconstitutional
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Supreme Court today ruled that the state’s system of issuing death sentences is unconstitutional. The Florida Legislature passed a law earlier this year requiring a jury vote of at least 10-2 for a person to be sentenced to death, revising a previous statute that required only a bare majority of jurors to agree. The court today ruled that the statute was unconstitutional, and that a death sentence in Florida must result from a unanimous jury decision.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida and the ACLU Capital Punishment Project filed amicus briefs urging the court to find the statute unconstitutional.
Responding to today’s ruling, ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon stated:
“For years, we have warned the Florida legislature that unless they rewrote our state’s broken death penalty statute, the courts would take the issue out of their hands. We require a unanimous jury in all other situations except death sentencing. A person should not be sentenced to death by a less than unanimous jury.
“Just as we said they would, the Florida Supreme Court has inserted some much-needed fairness in our death penalty process by declaring that anything short of a fully unanimous jury on every necessary issue is unconstitutional.
“Florida, with its nonunanimous jury requirement, has seen more death sentences reversed than any other state. Racial disparities, overzealous prosecutors and a lack of resources for defense counsel continue to plague death penalty cases.
“We are heartened by the court’s decision which should reduce both the number of death sentences, as well as the number of wrongful convictions that have plagued our state. But the unanimity issue was just one aspect of a crumbling death penalty system which is getting harder every day to justify.
“All defendants on Florida’s death row whose cases are pending on direct appeal must now receive new sentencing hearings unless the State can prove its heavy burden of showing beyond a reasonable doubt that the error in their cases would not have affected the jury verdicts in capital sentencing, a very difficult standard to overcome. The full impact of the decision remains to be seen as the Florida Supreme Court has yet to decide whether new rulings will apply retroactively to those defendants who cases were already decided on direct appeal. The question of retroactivity is pending in the Lambrix case, a case briefed but not yet decided by the Florida Supreme Court.
“The Florida legislature should not attempt any further small fixes of the unsalvageable death penalty. No one should have to die from the flaws in our judicial system — the racial bias, the extreme variation from county to county in the use of the death penalty, the definitions of intellectual disability that don’t match science and medicine, and so many more.
“We see other states wrestling with the same problems and coming to the same conclusion: capital punishment must end.”
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The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.
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