The Florida Senate unanimously passed legislation requiring juries to vote unanimously on death sentences Thursday, paving the way for the House to do the same
After the Florida Supreme Court ruled the state’s death sentencing laws unconstitutional last fall, the Legislature was tasked with passing the fix (SB 280). Legislative leaders made it a priority, lining it up for passage in the first week of the legislative session to allow prosecutors to pursue new death cases.
“I strongly believe if we’re going to give someone the ultimate penalty ... that we need to require a unanimous jury,” Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Ocoee, said. “I just believe that it speaks to who we are as Floridians that if we’re gonna send someone to death that they should have a fair trial and I believe unanimity speaks to that.”
Current law requires murderers be convicted on a unanimous vote but that a sentence of death only requires a minimum 10-2 vote of the jury. That was passed last year after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the death sentencing scheme in the case Hurst v. Florida. Prior to that, juries gave a recommendation of a death sentence on a simple majority vote and a judge had the final say in sentencing.
The Senate’s 37-0 vote Thursday came with two words of caution from Democrats: Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, warned lawmakers could soon have to address other problems with the death penalty. Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, said the state should stop the death penalty altogether.
The House prepared its death penalty legislation Thursday for a final vote, which could come later in the afternoon or Friday morning.