Florida Death Penalty Ruled Unconstitutional

This ruling is epic! The United States Supreme Court ruled this week that Florida’s death penalty law is unconstitutional. The highest court in the land found, amongst other things, that Florida courts were violating defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights by ordering death in the manner in which they were.

What the court had a problem with was the fact that judges, not juries, were the ones making the ultimate decisions in capital cases. While jurors deliberated and made a recommendation to the judge, the judge would decide on his/her own whether the person should live or die. The Court found that a jury’s mere recommendation is not enough.

The ruling was good news for Timonthy Lee Hurst, who was convicted of stabbing his co-worker in 1998. His case will now be remanded back to the lower courts to decide what his penalty should be. It will now be exclusively up to the jury to decide his fate.

This ruling could affect at least the other 400 inmates on Florida’s death row and may impact many other cases. What isn’t clear is whether this ruling is retroactive, and thus, applies to previously resolved death penalty cases. One thing is for sure, every defendant sitting on death row will be challenging his death sentence under the new “Hurst decision.”

I believe this is a very important decision. The Court is sending a clear message that the constitution requires juries and not judges make these critical decisions. I support the Court’s decision. What is fundamentally unfair is for a jury to make a decision on one of the most critical issues in our criminal system and then have a lone judge singlehandedly impose his will in a case, ignoring and/or overriding a juries’ findings. That always seemed unfair to me. I felt that wasn’t square with the mandates of the constitution. Now, the higher court has corrected that.

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