January 29, 2016
On Wednesday, January 27, the Senate Criminal Justice Subcommittee held a workshop to discuss legislative remedies that address Florida's death sentencing process in response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hurst v. Florida.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Florida's system for sentencing a person to death is unconstitutional because it allows a judge, not a jury, to decide whether the circumstances of a crime warrant a sentence of death. Currently, Florida's sentencing scheme allows a judge to find an aggravating circumstance, independent of a jury's findings. Statement on Hurst decision from Michael Sheedy, FCCB executive director.
Senators heard presentations and recommendations for legislative action from several stakeholders, including: a retired judge, both prosecuting and defense attorney associations; the Florida Bar; the Office of the Attorney General; the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights; and the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, DC.
Two previously-filed bills address the conclusions in Hurst. SB 330 (Altman) and HB 157 (Rodriguez, J.) prohibit a judge from making findings of fact that were never considered by the jury and require:
- A jury unanimously determine the existence of aggravating circumstances
- Jurors be unanimous in recommending the death penalty
While Florida's Catholic bishops continue to oppose the use of the death penalty, SB 330 and HB 157 improve our state's capital sentencing process by encouraging more thoughtful deliberation among jurors and ensuring a more reliable sentencing process.