Death Penalty Fix On The Fast Track

February 16, 2017

A proposal that would require unanimous jury recommendations for death sentences to be imposed sailed through its first House vetting Wednesday, receiving unanimous approval from the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

The legislation (HB 527), and a similar Senate measure (SB 280), is the latest attempt to get the state’s death penalty — on hold for more than a year — back on track in the wake of a series of court rulings.

The issues began with a U.S. Supreme Court decision in January 2016 finding that the state’s capital sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges, instead of juries.

Lawmakers quickly passed a measure to address the court ruling, which did not address the issue of jury unanimity. The new law included a component that did away with simple majority recommendations for death to be imposed, and instead required at least 10 jurors to agree on death sentences.

But the Florida Supreme Court in October struck down the new law as an unconstitutional violation of the right to trial by jury and said unanimous recommendations are required.

Buddy Jacobs, a lobbyist who represents the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, urged the Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday to quickly pass the new bill to fix the death penalty.

“We have 50 cases ready to be tried in Florida. Some are picking juries as we speak. This is a real crisis in the criminal justice system, and it’s a real crisis for the victim’s families of these terrible, terrible crimes,” he said.

But defense lawyers, who repeatedly cautioned lawmakers last year against approving a law that did not require unanimity, maintain that the state still has work to do to fix the death penalty statute.

Public defenders contend that the current law is not narrow enough to capture the “worst of the worst,” something that courts look for when evaluating death penalty laws. Florida, one of only two states that does not require unanimous jury recommendations for death, is an “outlier,” 10th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Rex Dimmig said Wednesday.

“Florida will continue to be an outlier after this bill is passed. If Florida is to continue to have a death penalty, comprehensive reform is needed,” he said.

But bill sponsor Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said lawmakers have a duty to ensure that Floridians “have access to justice” in the form of the death penalty.

“The only way to ensure that is to have a constitutional statute, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

The House and Senate measures face their second committee hearings next week before heading to the floor for full votes. The annual legislative session starts March 7.

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida


9 Responses to “Death Penalty Fix On The Fast Track”

  1. Lou on February 18th, 2017 8:25 am

    As one that has served on a jury before….there is Always one or two that don’t agree with the rest of the jury! Our laws need to be what the majority of the public wants done. Our judges need to do the job they are paid to do. Our prisons and costs are out of control. Majority should rule in death cases, limit number of appeals and carry it out within 5 years.

  2. Fed Up Citizen on February 17th, 2017 10:40 am

    I agree with you! 10 out of 12 should seal the fate.
    And then we need to deal with the next real issue here-letting a convicted person sit on death row for 30+ years. There should be a time limit. Once you are sentenced to death-your sentence will be carried out within a year! Or whenever your appeals have been exhausted.(which we all know the a lawyer will drag that out as long as possible, so we may end up right back where we started)
    We need to fix they system for sure. Some (I won’t say all) lawyers as just as crooked as the criminal, they don’t care about justice-they only care about “winning”, no matter the cost. Special place for them in the afterlife.

  3. chris in Molino on February 16th, 2017 11:18 pm

    This is stupid. The death penalty wasn’t a deterrent before, so it dang sure won’t be now. With the world the way it is now we should be fast tracking every aspect of death penalty cases from indictment to carrying out sentance. But oh well. Instead lets love everyone. Let’s give everybody an award so they all feel special. Even folks who kill people. Wouldn’t want em to feel bad or anything.

  4. Jason on February 16th, 2017 7:13 pm

    Bill….. J.C.Watts said “Character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that’s right is to get by, and the only thing that’s wrong is to get caught.”

    IMHO, If you lay down with dogs you are going to get fleas. I would hope that I had raised a child that wouldnt put himself in a place to to get fleas or have his integrity tested. However, if that child had chosen to be a non-law abiding individual, the answer to your question is “Yes”, my sentiments would apply to him as well. No double standards from me. The taxpayers shouldnt be encumbered to have to support some career criminal criminal doing life for 20, 30, 40, 50+ years receiving three hots and a cot. The only successful rehab of a career criminal is with a bullet to the back of the head. Its a for sure guarantee that criminal wont harm another innocent party.

  5. Bill on February 16th, 2017 3:57 pm

    Jason. Does that also go for your son? even though the guy that blame him recanted his story and the judge was up for a seat on the higher court.

  6. Mike J. on February 16th, 2017 9:35 am

    Obviously public defenders want unanimous juries because it’s more difficult to get a death penalty conviction that way. Public defenders would rather send murders to prison for life and have good citizens pay for their housing and security. Public defenders sit at a table with murderers and feel sorry for the accused while the families of the victims suffer.

    Everyone, even the obviously guilty, deserves a fair trial by jury.

    Justice should be swift instead of agonizingly slow. Don’t make the victims suffer any longer.

    In my opinion, every convicted murderer should be executed in the manner they used on their victims.

  7. just saying on February 16th, 2017 8:28 am

    @Jason if a Jury has the ability to unanimously convict or aquit someone then yes they should be able to unanimously sentence someone to death. It is up to the prosecution to seek the death penalty and it is up to them to make a case to support such a decision and for the Jury to vote on it. I believe its the best way to keep the system as honest as it can be when someone life is on the line.

  8. ROBERT on February 16th, 2017 8:10 am

    Laws like this are why juries like Jodi Arias happen…1 lone juror can secure their own agenda and a killer escapes justice. If 10 out of 12 people decide then it should be accepted.

  9. Jason on February 16th, 2017 2:44 am

    The requirement of an “unanimous jury recommendation” has virtually assured that the death penalty will no longer be a viable option in Florida. The Supreme Court can rarely provide an “unanimous decision” and now they expect 12 lay people to be unanimous? In no other criminal case does the jury recommend a sentence. This final decision – as in all court cases – should belong to the judge and no one else.

    If there was any “tweaking” to be done to the statute it should have been to widen the use of the death penalty to include those who are “career criminals”. Florida has more than enough “lifers” filling beds in our correctional institutions.

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