FL High Court: Death Cases Don’t Need Unanimous Juries

Florida’s Supreme Court said Thursday that unanimous jury recommendations are not necessary before death sentences can be imposed, as justices backed away from a 2016 decision that revamped the state’s capital-punishment system, the News Service of Florida reports. The 4-1 ruling reflected changes in the Court since last January, when a conservative majority took control after the retirements of  three longtime justices. Thursday’s majority opinion said the court “got it wrong” in 2016 when it required changes such as unanimous jury recommendations on death sentences. The 2016 ruling came after the U.S. Supreme Court had found Florida’s death-penalty system unconstitutional.

“Last, lest there be any doubt, we hold that our state Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment … does not require a unanimous jury recommendation — or any jury recommendation — before a death sentence can be imposed,” said Thursday’s majority opinion shared by Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston, Alan Lawson and Carlos Muniz.  Justice Jorge Labarga wrote a highly critical dissent, arguing that the majority “has taken a giant step backward and removed a significant safeguard for the just application of the death penalty in Florida.” Labarga said the ruling “returns Florida to its status as an absolute outlier among the jurisdictions in this country that utilize the death penalty.”

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