Capital Punishment Rollback for Florida

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In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a Florida state law concerning the death penalty was unconstitutional. According to the court ruling, the unconstitutionality of the law was based on it having given too much power to judges. On March 3, 2017, however, the Florida Legislature submitted a bill to Governor Rick Scott that aims to impose a requirement that juries reach a unanimous decision in order to impose the death penalty. This is an attempt on the part of the legislature to ensure that the law complies with court mandates.

The House voted 112 to 3 in favor of the new measure, and the state senate passed it with rare, unanimous bipartisanship. Supporters of the death penalty now consider the law to be better than having no death penalty at all, though they are disgruntled at not one but two rulings in recent history declaring the law unconstitutional. A sizable number of conservatives, for instance, would rather juries be able to impose the death penalty by way of simple majority when convicting someone of murder. Opposition from the other end of the spectrum sees liberals who want nothing to do with the death penalty whatsoever.

With this bill, a compromise has been struck that has seen nearly unprecedented bipartisan support on account of both sides ironically viewing it as a step in the right direction. The Democrats support the bill because they expect it to reduce the execution rate in the state of Florida while Republicans support it because they prefer it to the risk of Democrats doing away with the death penalty altogether. As such, the state legislature has managed to reach a consensus on the bill and send it to Governor Scott.

Governor Scott is expected to support the legislation as well, and his office has already spoken to the unlikelihood that he would veto. The state of Florida’s current execution rate has, thus far, put 23 prisoners to death under the Scott Administration, which exceeds the execution rate of every Florida Governor since 1979 when the state reinstituted capital punishment.

The Supreme Court’s ruling that the original law bestowed too much power to judges to make the ultimate call on whether or not convicts live or die stemmed from a case in which a jury was split 7 to 5, nearly even; the judge imposed the death penalty in lieu of the split, exhibiting the reach of his authority on the matter. When the Supreme Court ruled this kind of sentencing an unconstitutional empowerment of judges, the Florida legislature deconstructed and rebuilt the law with a measure that required a 10-to-2 majority in order to impose the death penalty. This was the compromise conservatives preferred in response to the court’s initial ruling; however, the same court has since dubbed even this measure an unconstitutional empowerment of judges. Consequently, the legislature is now agreeing to the condition of unanimous jury.