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U.S. Supreme Court Rules Florida’s Death Penalty Sentencing System is Unconstitutional

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that Florida’s death penalty sentencing system is unconstitutional; as such, this will lead to significant issues that must be decided by Florida relating to the current inmates awaiting execution on death row. Florida’s current system in place was found to be unconstitutional due to the fact that the system permitted a non-unanimous jury to make an advisory sentence of whether the death penalty should be imposed, which a judge would give great weight to when deciding, in his/her independent judgment, if the death sentence was suitable. In other words, regardless of the advisory sentence put forth by the jury, it would be the judge who would decide. Florida’s sentencing system is an outlier throughout the United States where in most states not only is the sentence up to the jury, but the jury must be unanimous when calling for the death penalty.

Hurst v. Florida and Ring v. Arizona: Cases Leading to SCOTUS Holding

The U.S Supreme Court’s holding in the case at issue, Hurst v. Florida, stems from a recent case that the U.S Supreme Court ruled on, Ring v. Arizona, which required that all criminal defendants have the right to receive their sentence from a jury who weighs the aggravating and mitigating circumstances and ultimately determines whether the death penalty or life imprisonment is appropriate. The U.S. Supreme Court determined that it would be up to Florida to resentence the criminal defendant at the center of the issue, and required that a jury must decide whether the death penalty is appropriate or not based on the facts of the case. If the Florida legislature does not get involved through legislative action, Florida’s court system may be bombarded by litigation from the approximately 400 death penalty inmates hoping for a resentencing as well.

What Will Happen to The Men and Women on Death Row?

One byproduct of the Supreme Court’s ruling might be the abolition of the death penalty in the state of Florida, which would have a serious impact on the criminal justice system. This is because Florida is one of the strongest proponents of the death penalty and has one of the highest death penalty rates in the country. Many argue that striking the death penalty may be an easier fix than attempting to resentence the 400 inmates on death row who are affected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling. If the death penalty is stricken, those inmates with death sentences will be permitted to receive life sentences without parole.

Sixth Amendment Violation at the Heart of the Issue

At the center of this issue is the right provided to criminal defendants by the Sixth Amendment.

The Sixth Amendment asserts that criminal defendants have the right to a speedy and fair trial, and that the trial must be held with the involvement of an impartial jury. In the case of Florida, it was not an impartial jury which decided the fate of the accused, but the ultimate punishment was decided and handed down by the judge, not the jury. In the opinion of Ring and the United States Supreme Court, this was a violation of the criminal defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

Though the U.S Supreme Court’s ruling is a major victory for criminal defendants who may be facing capital punishment, the death penalty is still permitted in Florida. If you or a loved one has been convicted of a capital crime, it is important to speak with an experienced defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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