Both the United States Supreme Court, and the Florida Supreme Court have now made it clear that the Florida death penalty statutes that have been in use over the past 45 years are unconstitutional. This result has been predicted since the original adoption of the statutes, and made clear by the Supreme Court's decisions in Sullivan v. Louisiana, Apprendi v. New Jersey, and Ring v. Arizona. How the courts address the 393 prisoners currently on Florida's death row, sentenced to death under an unconstitutional statute, is yet to be determined. This paper reviews the history of the Florida death penalty statutes and provides a census of cases in Florida.
A Senate committee could begin moving forward Monday with a plan to require unanimous jury recommendations before inmates can be sentenced to death.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee is slated to take up a bill (SB 280), filed by Chairman Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, that would make the long-debated change. A similar measure (HB 527) has been filed by House Judiciary Chairman Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor...
The Supreme Court’s inquiry into the constitutionality of the death penalty has overlooked a critical “objective indicator” of society’s “evolving standards of decency”: the rate at which citizens are excluded from capital jury service under Witherspoon v. Illinois due to their conscientious objections to the death penalty. While the Supreme Court considers the prevalence of death verdicts as a gauge of the nation’s moral climate, it has ignored how the process of death qualification shapes those verdicts. This blind spot biases the Court’s estimation of community norms and distorts its Eighth Amendment analysis.
This paper presents the first quantitative study of Witherspoon strikes in real capital cases, measuring the strike rate in eleven Louisiana trials resulting in death verdicts from 2009 to 2013. Of the 1,445 potential jurors questioned, 325 individuals (22.5%) were excluded from service on the basis of their opposition to the death penalty. These exclusions had a considerable impact on the racial composition of the jury pool: In the trials for which individualized data on race was available, one-third of black venire members were struck under Witherspoon, and nearly 60% of those struck on this basis were black. These findings underscore the profound impact of death qualification upon the composition of capital juries and the outcomes of capital trials. Particularly in the wake of Justice Breyer’s recent call for reconsideration of the death penalty’s constitutionality, there is an urgent need for (a) systematized, ongoing data collection on Witherspoon strikes, and (b) formal consideration of the effect of death qualification in future Eighth Amendment analysis.
A juror has written a brief essay about his experience on the Paul Storey death penalty trial, which occurred in Texas in 2008. In the essay, the juror, who now regrets his decision to vote in favor of death, discusses jury dynamics and the process by which jurors reach a verdict. Among the many interesting insights put forward by the juror is a recommendation to require the jury to "deliberate for some minimum time" before issuing a verdict. It appears that the juror believes that this minimum time requirement will improve the decision making process. According to this particular juror, it only took 1-2 hours to sentence Paul Storey to death.
How many jurors does it take to determine whether or not the defendant should be put to death? For many years in Florida, the answer to that question was seven. However, there are two legislative proposals one in the Florida House and the other in Florida Senate to raise that number to 10 and 12 respectively. While it looks like the House will prevail, there are some who believe that Florida should require juror unanimity before putting someone to death. Unanimity is the standard followed by most states that still permit the death penalty. To read an op-ed in support of unanimity go here.
Sticking with the the theme from yesterday, here is another audio or podcast discussing how Alabama law allows judges to override jury decision making in capital cases. This practice may eventually go the way of the dodo bird in light of the Supreme Court's recent ruling in Hurst v. Florida.