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Will Death Row History Repeat Itself?

October 27th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida requires unanimous juries in death cases, and judges can no longer change sentences voted upon by juries, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, Florida is on a path to continue executing people who had less than unanimous jury verdicts because of when they were sentenced.

In 2002, in a historic decision known as Ring, the US Supreme Court said juries, not judges must impose death sentences. Over the next 14 years, Florida executed 40 men and women, all sentenced by judges. All argued their sentences were illegal. Then in 2016, the nations high court ruled Florida got it wrong. Mark Schlakman is a human rights attorney.

“The Florida Supreme Court did not apply Ring, after it was issued by the US Supreme Court. The US Supreme Court said in effect, Ring does apply.”

Now history may repeat itself. More than 170 death row inmates, all sentenced before 2002, most by non unanimous juries, still face death. But those convicted after Ring in 2002 can’t be executed without a new, unanimous sentencing hearing.

The practice, known as partial retroactivity was challenged at the highest levels in the two most recent executions, with no relief.


Both Mark Assay, executed in August, and Michael Lambrix, executed October 5th argued they weren’t being treated fairly.

“These legal distinctions, while accepted, and appropriate, are from a fundamental fairness perspective, spurious” says Schlakman.


Partial retroactivity won’t be an issue of Patrick Hannon. The state is preparing for another execution. He’s set to die on November 6th. In 1991, his Tampa jury found his crimes so heinous, it recommended death twice. Both by unanimous verdicts.

The Florida Supreme Court began recommending a unanimous jury verdict to state lawmakers in 2005. The legislature failed to heed their warning until after the US Supreme Court declared the sentencing scheme unconstitutional early last year.

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