Tallahassee, Fla. — In an Oct. 14 ruling, the Florida Supreme Court said the death penalty cannot be imposed unless the jury is unanimous in supporting such a sentence.
The 5-2 ruling puts Florida in line with most other states that require unanimous jury support for the death sentence. It also struck down a newly enacted state law that allowed a defendant to be sentenced to death as long as 10 of 12 jurors recommended it.
One of court's Oct. 14 decisions was about a case that recently came before the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, Hurst v. Florida, the court ruled this January that Florida's death penalty system was unconstitutional because it allowed judges, rather than juries, to determine whether a convicted criminal should get a death sentence.
The case was named for Timothy Lee Hurst, convicted of the 1998 murder of his manager at a Pensacola fast-food restaurant. In Hurst's case, a jury in 2000 decided 7-5 in favor of putting him to death. He was granted a new sentencing hearing on appeal, and the jury again recommended a death sentence. A judge again found the facts necessary to sentence Hurst to death were presented, and the Florida Supreme Court affirmed that decision.
Florida's Supreme Court said Oct. 14 that Hurst deserves a new sentencing hearing.
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The court's new ruling now also puts the fate of 385 prisoners on Florida's death row in question since their cases must now be reviewed and, in some cases, retried.
And the ruling, based on the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment, will likely have a greater impact on death penalty in the state.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Barbara Pariente wrote that resolving this issue now "ensures that, for as long as death is a permissible punishment in the United States, Florida's death penalty will be constitutionally sound."