Florida May Commute Almost 400 Death Sentences

Florida is one of eight states that has kept the electric chair.

Florida is one of eight states that has kept the electric chair.

The 389 inmates on Florida’s death row may get a reprieve from execution: Florida’s death penalty law has been declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. In an 8-1 majority opinion, the Court ruled that aggravating circumstances must be taken into account before reaching a death penalty verdict and a jury should do this. A jury recommendation to a trial judge is in conflict with the 6th Amendment that states a jury – not a judge – is necessary to impose a sentence of death.

Two executions have been stopped since the U.S. Supreme Court’s January, 2016, ruling and attorneys for those inmates have asked the Florida Supreme Court to reduce the death sentence to life without parole for all inmates sentenced to death under Florida’s old system. The state objects and argues that the ruling should be considered on a case-by-case basis. They maintain that the death penalty was not declared unconstitutional, just the sentencing process.

A group of Florida lawyers filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that state law requires commutation of the death sentences to life imprisonment without parole for all death row inmates. They refer to a 1972 law that provides that “in the event the death penalty in a capital felony is held to be unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court if the U.S. Supreme Court, the court having jurisdiction over a person previously sentenced to death shall sentence the person to life imprisonment.”

Since the January U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Florida has passed a new law that requires at least 10 of the 12 jurors to recommend execution. Previously, a vote of as few as 7 of the 12 could result in the recommendation of the death sentence.  According to the Villages Daily Sun, only 77 of the 389 inmates on death row were sent there on recommendation of a unanimous vote of the jury.

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