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FL House Begins Mulling Death Penalty Changes

Stetson law professor Michael Allen speaking to lawmakers.
Florida Channel
Stetson law professor Michael Allen speaking to lawmakers.
Stetson law professor Michael Allen speaking to lawmakers.
Credit Florida Channel
Stetson law professor Michael Allen speaking to lawmakers.

The Florida Legislature is preparing its response to a state Supreme Court decision requiring unanimous jury decisions for the death penalty.

Florida has spent more than a year in legal wrangling over its death penalty statutes.  According to the most recent state Supreme Court ruling.  Cases finalized before 2002 will stand—as will those decided with a 12-0 jury.  But the death penalty process is stalled, because Florida’s statutes don’t yet reflect the court’s unanimity requirement.  Stetson University law professor Michael Allen says it’s prompting an interesting reaction in the courts.

“What you’re seeing is a rush to the courthouse by criminal defendants, right?” Allen says.  “Speedy trial, speedy trial, speedy trial—because the argument is there is no functioning way to impose the death penalty.”

Allen spoke before the House Judiciary committee Tuesday.  He says the simplest way forward is for lawmakers to change the provision from last year requiring only 10 jurors agree. 

“So if one wanted to do a very quick fix you change 10-2 to unanimous and you leave everything else in the statute exactly the same,” he says.

And if lawmakers want capital cases to continue they may have little choice.  Allen explains the Florida Supreme Court probably has enough support in the state constitution to back up its unanimity ruling. 

But Neal Dupree an attorney who represents clients on death row says the court’s decision to impose a cut off in 2002 is less certain.

“It’s unusual to say the least,” Dupree says, “I’ve never seen it—I just don’t know that it really exists.  And I can tell you that as of today I know that our offices the regions combined we’ve filed about a hundred and fifty petitions.”

Litigation on those cases could continue for more than a year.

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.