Florida's death penalty struck down – again

The state's high court ruled Friday that Florida's capital punishment laws – even as amended following a US Supreme Court ruling – are unconstitutional.

Bob Mack/The Florida Times-Union/AP
Representatives of a group of over 50 faith leaders from the Jacksonville, Fla. area hold a news conference in front of the Duval County Courthouse to call for the end of the death penalty on Aug. 24, 2016.

For the second time in less than a year, Florida's death penalty sentencing process has been ruled unconstitutional.

The Sunshine State’s highest court ruled on Friday that the law, which only required 10 out of 12 jurors to recommend capital punishment in murder cases, instead of a unanimous decision, was unconstitutional.

Legislators had already revised the law after the US Supreme Court struck down the previous iteration. In January, the nation's high court ruled 8-1 that the previous law – which granted judges, rather than a jury, the power to issue a death sentence – was unconstitutional.

The challenges in Florida come at a time when capital punishment faces a myriad of legal and logistical hurdles across the country. While the death penalty has far from entirely fallen out of favor – a majority of Americans still support it – there has been renewed scrutiny on the way it is doled out and implemented, as recent high-profile cases have shown.

Last week, the US Supreme Court heard a high-profile challenge to a death sentence issued in Texas, which civil rights advocates say was influenced by racial bias. In Pennsylvania, the governor placed a moratorium on the death penalty until a bipartisan committee could investigate the use of the punishment in the state. Numerous other states have had to postpone executions because of difficulties sourcing lethal injection drugs as companies seek to distance themselves from the practice.

The cases in Florida focus on the role of the jury in sentencing.

“By striking down Florida’s capital punishment scheme, the Supreme Court restored the central role of the jury in imposing the death penalty,” Cassandra Stubbs, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Capital Punishment Project, said in a statement after the US Supreme Court’s January ruling. “Juries across the country have become increasingly reluctant to vote in favor of death,” she said. “The court’s ruling thus represents another step on the inevitable road toward ending the death penalty.”

The case was initially brought to the US Supreme Court on behalf of Timothy Hurst, who was sentenced to death for the murder of a restaurant manager in 1998.

In another ruling on Friday, Florida's high court ordered Mr. Hurst’s death sentence to be vacated and sent back to a lower court for a new sentencing hearing. The court declined to commute his sentence to life in prison, as some advocates had sought.

Friday's rulings could affect other cases as well, as the law around death penalty sentencing cannot be applied to pending cases as written.

This report contains material from Reuters.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Florida's death penalty struck down – again
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today