Florida’s death penalty law and the fate of the state’s nearly 400 death row inmates remains in flux. Last week a Miami-Dade judge ruled that Florida’s newly revised death penalty sentencing law is unconstitutional. That ruling came in the case of Karon Gaiter who awaits trial for first-degree murder. Judge Milton Hirsh ruled that the law goes against the long-time sanctity of unanimous verdicts in death penalty cases because the system only requires 10 of 12 jurors to vote in favor of imposing execution.
Just days before that ruling, Florida Supreme Court Justices heard oral arguments in the case of death row inmate Timothy Lee Hurst who murdered his boss at a Pensacola Popeye’s restaurant. In the Hurst case, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Florida’s death sentencing system unconstitutional earlier this year arguing it gave too little power to juries. In response the Florida legislature passed a revision of the law requiring 10 of 12 jurors to agree on imposing the death penalty. In the Hurst case, opponents of the law argue that all 390 of Florida’s death row inmates should have their sentences changed to life in prison because they were convicted under a flawed system. While executions in Florida are currently suspended amid the legal wrangling, the state has the second highest number of inmates on death row in the U.S. and is one of the most active when it comes to carrying out executions. Florida is among just three states that have carried out executions in each of the past five years along with Texas and Oklahoma. We’ll take a closer look at the legal battle as we explore the future of the death penalty in Florida.