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Florida juries now must vote unanimously to give death sentences, court rules

By
Doug G. Ware
The Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday that the state's law requiring only 10 of 12 jurors to agree to impose a death sentence is unconstitutional. Justices decided that since all jurors already must agree on aggravating factors that must precede any capital sentence, so too must they also vote unanimously to impose that punishment. File Photo by Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
The Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday that the state's law requiring only 10 of 12 jurors to agree to impose a death sentence is unconstitutional. Justices decided that since all jurors already must agree on aggravating factors that must precede any capital sentence, so too must they also vote unanimously to impose that punishment. File Photo by Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Oct. 14 (UPI) -- The Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday that every time a death sentence is handed down in criminal court, only the jurors may decide to impose that punishment -- and there may not be any dissenters among them.

In making its ruling, by a 5-to-2 vote, the high court ordered Gov. Rick Scott and the state legislature to rewrite the law to reflect that process.

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"The Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury mandates that under Florida's capital sentencing scheme, the jury -- not the judge -- must be the finder of every fact, and thus every element, necessary for the imposition of the death penalty,'' the court wrote in its 89-page opinion. "Based on Florida's requirement for unanimity in jury verdicts ... in order for the trial court to impose a sentence of death, the jury's recommended sentence of death must be unanimous."

The nation's high court based its rejection of the Florida law on defendants' right to a jury trial -- and not a trial by jurors and sentence by judge.

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Further, the court said that because Florida law requires jurors to unanimously agree on aggravating factors that are required for the death penalty, so must they also unanimously agree to impose that sentence.

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The court's ruling, in the case of Hurst v. Florida, came nine months after the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Florida judges do not have the authority to overrule juries in capital cases and order a death sentence.

In response, Florida rewrote the law to remove the judge from the process, but only required 10 of the 12 jurors to vote for a death sentence. Now, they must remove that, as well.

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The Florida court's ruling means that all current and future cases must abide by the order to deliver capital punishment. It does not, however, address the nearly 400 inmates on death row whose punishments were rendered under the old sentencing rule. That will be determined by state lawmakers.

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