In a much anticipated and written about case, the
U.S. Supreme Court overwhelmingly ruled Florida’s death penalty laws
unconstitutional. The decision was 8-1, with Justice Samuel Alito being the lone dissenter.
The new ruling is in stark contrast to a 1980s decision which upheld the
validity of the law.
The death penalty system struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court was
enacted by Florida lawmakers in 1972. Since then, it has been the subject of legal challenges, criticisms,
and now has been ruled to be unconstitutional. Under the now defunct system,
judges listen to the recommendation of the jury on whether to impose death,
but can reject a recommendation because judges are responsible for findings
of fact regarding death penalty sentences.
Case to Overrule Law
The case that finally inspired the court to overturn the law involved the
murder of a restaurant worker in 1998. Her body was found in the freezer
of the restaurant where she worked. When police recovered the body, they
discovered she had been stabbed over 60 times. In addition to the murder,
the store’s safe was robbed of hundreds of dollars.
The following investigation of the murder produced charges against the
woman’s co-worker. But he defended the charges using an alibi that
his car broke down and that he never made it to work. The prosecution
presented evidence that he used stolen money to purchase things like shoes
and jewelry, and that he told people in advance that he was going to rob
the store. Following a trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty.
The judge in this case charged the jury with the duty to recommend whether
the man should be put to death as a sentence. The jury recommended the
death penalty, and the judge agreed, so the man was sentenced to death.
Since the judge handed down that sentence, there were several post-conviction
developments in the case that seemed to prove the man was home while the
murder was actually committed, but still possibly involved. After going
on appeal and being decided again, the man was against sentenced to death.
Jury Required to Make Findings
Eventually the case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. There, the
court held that Florida’s system of allowing a judge to make findings
of fact of whether a person should be sentenced to death was unconstitutional.
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives every american the
right to a jury trial. So letting a judge make findings of fact as to
whether a person should be put to death interferes with that right to
have a case decided by a jury.
It is not clear how Florida will change their death penalty laws, but for
now several death row inmates may have a new precedent to appeal their
own death sentences. It is also not quite clear what effect this new ruling
with have on other state death penalty schemes.
Panama City Area Accident and Injury Attorney
While we do not generally practice criminal defense law here at
The Pittman Firm, stories such as these are important to understand for our system of justice
in general. Here, we fight on behalf of victims of accidents and injuries.
If you have been injured in an accident or injury
contact us. We look forward to helping you recover for your injuries.
See related blog posts:
Bugged Outside: A Case on Federal Eavesdropping;
Florida Supreme Court to Decide on Attorney's Fees Case.