Florida’s Death Penalty Once Again Struck Down By State Judge

Florida has once again had its death penalty law struck down as unconstitutional. The death penalty law sent to Circuit Court Judge Milton Hirsch by the state of Florida was done so by Rick Scott, and the state legislators hoped to have fixed problems that had the law struck down by the United States Supreme Court in the first place. This time around, the judge ruled Florida’s requirement that only 10 of the 12 jurors need to find a verdict of death to carry out the death penalty was unconstitutional.

Hirsch wrote the following, according to Buzzfeed.

“But for the ultimate decisions made within the judicial branch of government — guilty or note guilty, life or death — majority rule is insufficient. We ask, indeed we insist, that they reflect the will of all rather than the will of the few or even the many.”

Florida Governor Rick Scott led the charge for this new version of the death penalty and signed the bill into law on March 7. The first time Florida’s death penalty was struck down by the Supreme Court, it was because the law left the sentencing up to a single judge. By offering to have the sentencing put in the hands of a jury, Florida believed it was making sure the power to decide whether or not the death penalty would be used wasn’t in too few hands. The circuit court judge didn’t agree.

The problem Hirsch had with Florida’s death penalty law was entirely because some of the jurors could say they didn’t believe the ultimate punishment was appropriate. Florida would be one of just a handful of states that allows for some, but not all jurors to come to the same decision during the sentencing phase. With Hirsch’s ruling coming down on Monday, Florida is going to be looking for yet another way to carry out the death penalty sentences already handed down.

“We cannot accede, we will not accede, we have never acceded, to outcomes as to which no more can be said than that some jurors have spoken.”

Hirsch wrote in part of his ruling. Florida’s death penalty challenge was brought to the circuit court by Karon Gaiter, who has been charged with first-degree murder in Miami-Dade County. The prosecution has said it intends to seek the death penalty in his case, and he believed the way Florida was going to carry it out was unconstitutional. The case now becomes quite a bit more convoluted which appears to be what Rick Scott and the legislature were trying to avoid.

There is some doubt that those inmates in Florida who are already on death row will be allowed to be executed since the state doesn’t currently have a way to sentence anyone else to the death penalty. WNEM reports the case centers around whether or not inmates who have been sentenced under a system which is now unconstitutional can still be put to death. This case would affect the outcome of more than 400 people.

Timothy Lee Hurst and his attorneys are arguing that the Florida death penalty sentence must now be changed to life in prison because of the lack of constitutionality. The state’s rebuttal to the lawsuit has been that the Supreme Court didn’t say the death penalty is unconstitutional, just the way the sentence was arrived at. Both arguments tend to win over legal scholars from one side of the aisle or another though neither one appears to be cut and dry. Florida’s attorney general argued that if the death penalty sentence is thrown out, it should go through a whole new sentencing phase rather than automatic life in prison. Now that the newest Florida death penalty law has, indeed, been thrown out, it appears everything is up in the air.

[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]