Florida's Governor Rick Scott signed a new death sentencing law yesterday after the US Supreme Court invalidated the state's sentencing system in January. Capital punishment has been on hold since the old law was deemed a violation of a defendant's constitutional right to a jury trial.
The old Florida law allowed a mere majority of jurors to recommend a death sentence, according to The Miami Herald. The new Florida law allows the death penalty to be imposed if 10 of 12 jurors agree it is appropriate, among other developments. In most states, the death penalty must be recommended by a unanimous jury.
So What Happens Now?
Florida's Death Row is packed, with over 300 inmates awaiting execution. Many of them are appealing now. Not everyone who is on death row now is entitled to a review of their sentence based on the Supreme Court's sentencing ruling in January.
But many are and they are hoping to get resentenced to life without parole rather than death. Their thinking is that the death sentences imposed on them are invalid because obtained under a law deemed unconstitutional.
Obviously, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi does not see things the same way. Bondi's offices handles criminal appeals and is preparing for work ahead. Apart from 43 Death Row inmates entitled to automatic review under the Supreme Court decision in Hurst v. Florida, she says, the rest should be sentenced to death as planned.
Bondi points out that the death penalty itself has not been invalidated. Rather, it was Florida's sentencing scheme that was problematic. "The United States Supreme Court has not held that death as a penalty violates the Eighth Amendment, but has only stricken Florida's current statutory procedures for implementation," she said.
The new law addresses the aspects of sentencing deemed unconstitutional, including requiring a 10 of 12 majority to impose death. Also notable, the new law will require juries in future capital cases to unanimously agree upon and write down the aggravating factors that lead to imposition of a death sentence.
Two inmate deaths have been delayed since the Hurst decision in January and Governor Scott is eager to get back to business. He said in a statement that he hopes executions will soon resume so that victims can get the closure they need. "My foremost concern is always for the victim and their loved ones."