May 10, 2016
The Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments on May 5 in a case involving Timothy Lee Hurst, who was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of Cynthia Harrison in Pensacola. Hurst was the plaintiff in a legal challenge that led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January that Florida's death-penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it allowed a judge, not the jury, to find each fact necessary to impose a death sentence.
Hurst's attorneys argue that he should serve a life sentence, instead of face execution, since he was sentenced to death under what was an unconstitutional process. The future ruling by the court could have sweeping results for the 390 inmates currently awaiting execution in Florida.
Earlier this year, Governor Rick Scott approved a bill passed by lawmakers to address the constitutional issues of Florida's death sentencing scheme for capital cases. The legislation also requires that at least 10 of 12 jurors agree when recommending death, an improvement over previous law that allowed a person to be sentenced to death on a recommendation of only a simple majority of jurors (7 of 12). However, on Monday, May 9, a Miami-Dade circuit judge ruled that, because jurors are not required to agree unanimously on a recommendation of death as they do in every other decision, Florida's death penalty remains unconstitutional.
The FCCB affirms all persons regardless of their actions possess an innate human dignity and opposes the use of the death penalty. Other means, such as life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, are available to keep society safe and punish offenders. However, we have long advocated for requiring a unanimous jury decision to ensure a more reliable and fair sentencing process as long our state continues to use the death penalty.