12 January 2016

Florida's Death Penalty System Is Unconstitutional

The U.S. Supreme Court has held 8-1 that Florida's death penalty system is unconstitutional because a judge rather than a jury decides if the death penalty should be imposed.  Approximately 400 death row inmates in Florida are affected by the case.

The case has been remanded for harmless error analysis in the state court, but given that the recommendation by the jury to the judge that the death penalty be imposed was made by a 7-5 vote when jury verdicts on the death penalty must generally be unanimous, it is likely that the death sentence in this case will be reversed.

Harmless error analysis will likewise be necessary for essentially every single inmate on Florida's death row, although there are some complications related to how the retroactivity of U.S. Supreme Court decisions applies in this case.

The Florida Supreme Court had upheld the death sentence by a 4-3 ruling, with the majority arguing that U.S. Supreme Court cases affirming Florida's death penalty before its ruling in an Arizona case made the system constitutional despite the fact that it was in clear violation of the later U.S. Supreme Court precedent.  The U.S. Supreme Court did not buy this logic.

Two GOP Presidential candidates, Rubio and Jeb Bush, were complicit in doing nothing to change this system while holding state office, despite the fact that a substantially similar statute in Arizona was struck down as unconstitutional.

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