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Supreme Court Continues Mulling Death Penalty Law

Florida Supreme Court
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

  The Florida Supreme Court moved quietly into an annual summer break last week.

In releasing its last regular batch of opinions until Aug. 25, the court left unresolved questions about issues such as the constitutionality of the state's death-penalty sentencing laws.

Justices have been inundated with arguments in recent months about Florida's death-penalty sentencing system.

The arguments are rooted in a January U.S. Supreme Court ruling that essentially said the state's system was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges, instead of juries, in sentencing inmates to death.

The Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott scrambled to approve changes to address the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which came in a case known as Hurst v. Florida.

The new state law requires ten of 12 jurors to vote for death, before the sentence can be imposed.

Senate President Andy Gardiner says his chamber initially wanted the measure to require a unanimous jury decision, but the Senate compromised with the House in order to pass something.

“You are talking about somebody’s life, but the alternative is that you get nothing done,” Gardiner said. “So, you have to come to some resolution to make sure that the House and the Senate are comfortable. That’s what we ultimately did.”

Gardiner says the legislature had to do something in order for the death penalty to remain a viable option for prosecutors.

In cases involving numerous Death Row inmates, the Florida Supreme Court is trying to sort out questions such as whether the changes approved by the Legislature and Scott meet constitutional tests.

Florida is one of only three states with the death penalty that does not require jury unanimity.

There are currently 384 men and four women on death row in Florida.