“Florida’s death penalty system, under sustained legal assault for the past year, faces renewed pressure in 2017 that will strain courts, victims and taxpayers in ways sure to rekindle a debate over capital punishment,” the Tampa Bay Times reported last month.
The state has been grappling with the issue since January 2016, when the U.S. Supreme Court in Hurst v. Florida found that the state’s death penalty scheme violated the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury, because it requires the judge instead of the jury to make the final decision on whether to sentence a defendant to death. But the Court did not say whether its ruling was retroactive.
A month later, the state Supreme Court said death sentences issued before 2002 would not be affected by the Hurst ruling, but did apply to inmates sentenced to death after 2002, potentially forcing the state to hold new sentencing hearings for as many as 200 inmates, at the cost of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars. There are 384 people on Florida’s death row.
Last week, a state senator introduced a bill that would require a unanimous jury verdict for a death sentence, after the state Supreme Court found its previous 10-2 vote requirement unconstitutional.
There have been no executions in Florida since the Hurst ruling, and if they are allowed to proceed, the state will use a new drug cocktail that has never been used in the U.S. before, leaving many to anticipate lawsuits challenging the protocols before they are even used.
Finally, Florida has had more death sentences overturned – 26 – than any other death penalty state.
The morality issue aside, all of these problems would lead any sane legislature to decide that the only real option is to repeal the death penalty and replace it with a sentence of life without parole, and commute the sentences of the hundreds on death row.
As the Sun-Sentinel said in an editorial last week, “Some Florida lawmakers are determined to keep the state’s death penalty alive. Here’s hoping they fail.”