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Courts / Law

House Panel To Take Up Death Penalty Proposal

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Floridamemory.com

A House panel is slated to take up a death-penalty proposal Tuesday, three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida's death-penalty system giving judges --- not juries --- the power to impose death sentences is unconstitutional.

The 8-1 ruling in the Hurst v. Florida case was centered on what are known as "aggravating" circumstances that must be found before defendants can be sentenced to death. A 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in a case known as Ring v. Arizona, requires that determination of such aggravating circumstances be made by juries, not judges.

Under Florida law, juries make recommendations regarding the death penalty, based on a review of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, but judges ultimately decide whether defendants should be put to death or sentenced to life in prison.

Under the House proposal (PCB CRJS 16-07), death sentences could only be imposed if juries --- after weighing aggravating and mitigating factors --- unanimously decide that at least one aggravating factor exists. The proposal would also require at least nine jurors to vote for the death penalty.

Florida is one of only three states that do not require unanimous jury decisions about imposing death sentences. Florida law only requires a simple majority of the jury to recommend death, but requires unanimous jury verdicts in other cases. The only other two states that do not require unanimous decisions --- Alabama and Delaware --- require at least nine jurors to vote in favor of capital punishment.

The measure --- offered by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, chaired by Miami Republican Carlos Trujillo --- mirrors recommendations offered Wednesday by 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King at a Senate Criminal Justice Committee workshop on the death penalty.

All of the other experts on a panel at the workshop --- including judges, death penalty experts and lawyers representing Death Row inmates ---suggested that requiring unanimous jury verdicts in death penalties would be the best way to fix the sentencing system, because of other cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The House Criminal Justice meeting is scheduled on the same day the Florida Supreme Court will hear oral arguments addressing the Hurst decision in the cases of Cary Michael Lambrix, who is scheduled to be executed on Feb. 11, and two other Death Row inmates.