A Senate panel has approved a change in Florida’s death sentencing process that supporters say, if passed by the full Legislature, would bring the state in line with the rest of the country in its executions.
The bill (S.B. 664) would require a unanimous vote by jurors to request the death penalty.
Right now, all it takes is a majority of a jury — a 7-5 vote — to recommend the death penalty. According to legislative staff analysis, between 2000 and 2012, just 20 percent of death sentences have been issued by unanimous jury votes.
“In Florida, the only time a jury is not required to be unanimous is when jurors are considering a death sentence,” said Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, the bill’s sponsor. “This bill brings Florida in line with the vast majority of death penalty states.”
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After explaining the agony of coming to an opinion on a question of this magnitude, members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee approved the bill by a 5-0 vote.
“There’s someone who died unnecessarily, often horribly, and they have a family who survived, who demands and deserves justice,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island. “Even though it’s agonizing, I think it’s time. I think it’s time that Florida no longer be an outlier on this issue.”
During the hearing, Sen. Greg Evers, R-Crestview, the committee’s chair expressed concern that people like Ted Bundy would not have been executed. Bundy’s execution was not ordered with a unanimous vote after he was convicted of killing dozens of young women and girls in the 1970s.
But Matthew Willard of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said a change in the process wouldn’t change how guilt is determined and that the increased standard for executions might not change the number of death sentences that are given.
Bill Cervone of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association said it’s helpful for judges, who have the final say in ordering a death sentence, to know what the vote of the jury was.