Florida's Death Penalty Ruled Unconstitutional For The Second Time This Year

Lawmakers are scrambling to rewrite the statute...again.
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Shannon Argueta
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Lawmakers are scrambling to rewrite the statute...again.
Florida Supreme Court building via Wikimedia 

Florida Supreme Court building via Wikimedia 

For the second time in less than a year, Florida lawmakers are being forced to rewrite the state's death penalty law after a court has ruled it unconstitutional. On Friday, the Florida Supreme Court struck down a provision of the law that allows the "majority" of a jury to sentence a convict to death instead of a "unanimous" jury. 

According to the court, the new law “is unconstitutional because it requires that only ten jurors recommend death as opposed to the constitutionally required unanimous, twelve-member jury. Accordingly, it cannot be applied to pending prosecutions.”   

In January of this year the state was forced to rewrite the law the first time after the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down. In the case of Hurst v. Florida SCOTUS found that the state had too much input in a person's death as the jury was allowed to just give a "recommendation" and violated the Sixth Amendment. In the Hurst case a jury recommended death 7-5. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the majority opinion for the court and stated a jury's "mere recommendation is not enough."

After SCOTUS handed down the ruling, the state revamped the law and included a provision that would allow just 10 of a 12 person jury to put someone to death. This provision caught the eye of the Florida Supreme Court largely because state law requires juries to rule unanimously on other parts of the sentencing, including agreeing on the aggravating factors that would allow them to impose the death penalty in the first place.

In the majority opinion the court ruled that Florida “has a longstanding history of requiring unanimous jury verdicts as the elements of a crime." Justice Barbara Pariente concurred, stating:

 “Simply put, Florida's extreme outlier status in not requiring unanimity in the jury's final recommendation renders the current imposition of the death penalty in Florida cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution." 

All but one of the justices on the court joined the ruling. The lone judge who dissented was Justice Charles Canady, who Donald Trump has named as one of his possible SCOTUS picks if he wins the November election.

Now that the court has handed down its ruling, the question becomes: what is going to happen to the people who were given the death penalty under the old law? Technically they could now appeal their sentences and in a state with the second highest death row population (390 men and women) this could mean years of litigation and millions of taxpayer dollars. 

Read the latest ruling, in its entirety, below: