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Florida Supreme Court Considers Death Sentence Process

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The Seal of the Florida Supreme Court

A case that could decide the fate of nearly 400 death row inmates in Florida is being deliberated by the Florida Supreme Court.

The defendant whose case is under consideration by the state high court is Timothy Hurst. It was his case which prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out Florida's death sentencing process.

Stetson Law Professor Susan Rozelle anticipated the U.S. Supreme Court decision which overturned the death sentence process in Florida. The process has since been altered by the State Legislature.

Rozelle said the two sides in this situation are arguing a Florida statute which was enacted after Furman v. Georgia, a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision which declared the death penalty unconstitutional.

So, Rozelle said, "There was a time, post-Furman, when there were no death penalties. Following that decision, Florida enacted this statute."

The focus, she said, "is around whether that statute that says if the death penalty is ever declared unconstitutional in a particular case, that defendant should be sentenced to life instead. And the energy is focused on whether that statute applies here in Hurst."

As for what the Florida Supreme Court will decide, Rozelle said, "I don't know that the state of the law is going to compel them. I think they could come down either way." 

Florida Assistant Attorney General Carine Mitz argued that Hurst should not receive a life sentence. She said if his death penalty is tossed out, he should go through a new death penalty phase. 

Timothy Hurst was sentenced to death in 2000 for the 1998 murder of a woman he worked with at Popeye's restaurant in Pensacola, Cynthia Harrison.

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