Published March 13, 2017
Florida will now require a unanimous jury recommendation before the death penalty can be imposed under a bill signed late Monday by Gov. Rick Scott, who has remained relatively quiet about the problems with the state's death penalty law in recent months.
Lawmakers rushed to get the bill passed on the fourth day of their legislative session in hopes of fixing a death penalty law that's been found unconstitutional twice since January 2016. It's been seen as a better-than-nothing option for death penalty proponents as well as opponents.
The House approved the measure 112-3 the day after the Senate unanimously passed it, a rare case of bipartisan support for a death penalty bill. Not that everyone was pleased with it. Many Republicans prefer allowing the jury to have a simple majority to condemn a convict to death, while many Democrats want to abolish the death penalty altogether.
But Republican lawmakers believe the unanimous jury bill is better than risking the death penalty's abolition, and Democrats believe it will lead to fewer executions.
Legal questions about Florida's death penalty law during the past year brought executions to a halt. The state has executed 23 prisoners under Scott, more than any other governor since capital punishment was reinstated in Florida in 1979. A 24th inmate was scheduled for lethal injection before the courts stopped the execution. Lawmakers hope confusion that left executions on hold and ongoing death cases in limbo will finally be resolved.
The U.S. Supreme Court in January 2016 declared the state's death penalty sentencing law unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges to make the ultimate decision. It was based on a case where a judge issued a death sentence after a 7-5 jury recommendation. The Legislature responded by overhauling the law to let the death penalty be imposed by at least a 10-2 jury vote.
In October, however, the state Supreme Court voted 5-2 to strike down the new law and require unanimous jury decisions for capital punishment.