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Supreme Court Decision Pauses the Death Penalty in Florida

A recent decision by the United States Supreme Court put Florida legislators on a fast track to fix the state’s current death penalty procedures. As reported in The New York Times, the Court ruled that judges were given too much power to make death penalty determinations, in violation of the Sixth Amendment.

Writing for the majority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor explained that the Sixth Amendment requires that the jury make determinations about death penalty factors. Therefore, Florida’s law of allowing judges to make a death penalty determination, absent the jury’s recommendation, was ruled unconstitutional. As explained in the article, Florida is the only state that does not require the jury’s unanimous agreement in order to institute the death penalty.

In response to the court’s ruling, state legislators are working to quickly change the state’s death penalty legislation. More than 40 death row inmates have reportedly filed appeals in hopes of overturning their death penalty sentences. The Florida State Supreme Court is making a determination about the retroactivity of the ruling next week. According to report, Florida is currently without a death penalty statute, which prohibits prosecutors from seeking the punishment in current court cases.

The History of Florida’s Death Penalty

Florida currently has one of the most populated death rows in the country. Since 1979, more than 90 inmates were put to death under the state’s death penalty statute. Execution was first completed by public hanging, under the direction of local sheriffs. In the 1920s, the method of execution changed to the electric chair and the state took over oversight of the process. Between 1924 and 1964, more than 100 men were executed by electric chair within the state. In response to controversy about “botched executions, the state adopted lethal injections as the official method of execution.

In Florida, a number of crimes can result in the death penalty. Some of them include:

  • First degree murder – This is the most serious of the state’s homicide statutes. There are several charges included in this classification, including premeditated killings.
  • Felony murder – This crime occurs when a person is involved in the commission of a felony and that offense caused the death of an individual. It is considered a capital felony, which makes it punishable by death.
  • Capital drug trafficking – Some drug trafficking charges are classified as capital felonies, depending on the specifics of the incident.

Defending Against the Death Penalty

Death penalty cases are twofold when it comes to a criminal defense. Idealistically, you can secure a “not guilty” ruling on the underlying charges. However, when that is not possible, you must advocate for a lesser penalty during the sentencing phase of your trial. This is an incredible challenge to take on without the assistance of a Florida criminal defense attorney.

The death penalty is the most serious punishment you can face as a defendant. There is no more urgent need for aggressive criminal defense. Rely on an experienced criminal law attorney to secure experienced and knowledgeable representation. Contact Ratzan & Faccidomo, LLC at (305) 330-3905 for a free and confidential consultation in Miami.

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