Florida considers changes in death penalty

Feb. 6, 2006 at 11:15 PM
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Executions in Florida are on hold following stays for two killers by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court ruled that both inmates should be given a chance to argue that death by lethal injection is cruel and unusual. The appeals are based on a study that determined that the procedure may be painful.

Some state officials say that the Florida capital punishment law needs an overhaul on other grounds, the Palm Beach Post reported. Florida is the only state where a judge can overrule a jury's finding that a life sentence is appropriate and the only state where a death sentence needs a jury majority, not unanimity.

"Florida's all alone out here. That's something that usually gets the Supreme Court's attention," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "Sometimes you want to pre-empt that and change your own law before the Supreme Court steps in and you have no law."

A number of bills before the Legislature would change the jury procedure. When the Supreme Court ruled in an Arizona case that juries must decide on aggravating factors -- in effect allowing the judge to hand down a death penalty -- four states had judges involved in the process. The other three have since changed their laws.

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