U.S. Supreme Court Rules: Court Strikes Down Florida Death Penalty

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.
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