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Florida’s Death Penalty Ruled Unconstitutional

Categories: Drew Whitcup, ZiR

imagesAnna M. Phillips of the Tampa Bay Times reported big news yesterday from the US Supreme Court. In an 8-1 vote, the high court held in Hurst v. Florida that the state’s death penalty statute is unconstitutional. Specifically, the court decided that it is insufficient for juries on capital cases to simply recommend life or death. Rather, juries should be the ultimate deciders; to leave the final decision in the hands of a judge runs counter to defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights.

Phillips details some of the expected fallout, and decries the unfortunate timing of the decision:

The decision could lead to wave of appeals from many of the 390 inmates on the Florida’s death row, a number second only to California. It arrives days after the state executed convicted serial killer Oscar Ray Bolin Jr., who was repeatedly sentenced to death by judges acting on non-unanimous jury recommendations.

Some of Florida’s representatives seem displeased:

News of the high court’s decision stunned Florida legislators. Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, who learned of the ruling while he was giving a speech to open the state’s annual legislative session, said the Supreme Court had ‘impeccable timing.’

Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican, said House legal experts would begin to review the ruling. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, an attorney who has dealt with capital punishment during his legislative career, predicted that Florida legislators would act swiftly to get the death penalty ‘right back on track.’

I expect that they will. And I agree, certainly, about the “impeccable timing,” though I do not think Mr. Crisafulli and I say this for the same reasons. A man was killed by the state just days ago after a jury of his peers remained split on whether death was the appropriate punishment. As it turns out, that sentence was carried out in violation of the US Constitution. Typically, this would call for the courts to review and possibly vacate that sentence. And herein lies the (much) greater problem: capital punishment leaves no room for the fixing of mistakes. Oscar Ray Bolin Jr. is deceased, at the hands of the government, and that cannot be reversed.

Piecemeal and procedural attacks on various states’ death penalty statutes are worthy of praise. But for as long as legislators are able to get capital punishment “back on track,” states will continue to kill. And one is left to hope—at the very least—that no more mistakes are made.

— Drew Whitcup, Zeteo Contributing Writer

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