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State Supreme Court Reverses Course on Death Penalty Sentencing

January 24th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

A bombshell ruling by the state Supreme Court could drastically alter the state’s use of the death penalty.
The 4-1 decision overturns a previous ruling crafted by three liberal justices who have since retired.
In 2016 the State Supreme Court ruled Florida’s death penalty unconstitutional because it didn’t require a unanimous jury to recommend the death sentence.
Scott McCoy with the Southern Poverty Law Center believes the unanimity requirement is an important protection.
“When you have the death penalty and how final that is, you need safeguards,” said McCoy.
But now the newly conservative State Supreme Court has reversed that decision, finding a jury only has to unanimously agree a person is eligible for the death sentence, as opposed to recommending the sentence.
“The unanimous jury requirement is no longer, which has implications moving forward,” said Human Rights Attorney Mark Schlakman.
The case will likely impact 157 death row inmates who were sentenced to die by a less than unanimous jury after 2002.
They had been eligible for resentencing under the 2016 decision.
“My initial reading is that those people will be returned, as Mr. Poole’s case was, the death penalty will stay in effect and will be lawful and carried out,” said State Attorney of Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit Jack Campbell.
For now, a unanimous jury is still required to sentence a person to death under state law, but this ruling open the door for the State Legislature to reverse the law it passed after the 2016 decision.
“My hope is that this will not cause them to rethink that decision because that was a good decision and it should stay in place,” said McCoy.
As lawmakers ponder what to do 157 lives could hang in the balance.
The decision is likely going to be litigated heavily, but a Louisiana case before the US Supreme Court could clarify once and for all if a unanimous jury recommendation is required to sentence someone to death.
A decision is expected in June.

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