The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments over the constitutionality of Florida’s death penalty. The main challenge is over the process of how Florida hands down a death penalty, and not whether Florida is allowed to use the death penalty. This case comes in the face of what seems a yearly challenge to some aspect of the death penalty from some state.
Last year the High Court heard and denied a challenge about the kind of chemical used in lethal injections in Oklahoma. That case, Glossip v. Gross, failed on a 5-4 vote. Now this year the challenge will come from Florida, and it has some big supporters. No less than three former Florida Supreme Court justices and the American Bar Association are backing the law.
Facts about the Case
The challenge is going to the U.S. Supreme Court after losing in the Florida Supreme Court. The petitioner was convicted of a murdering an employee during a robbery at a local restaurant in Escambia County, Florida. The facts of what actually happened were quite grisly and gruesome, and at trial the petitioner was convicted after the prosecution and defense both had a chance to present their cases. The verdict came down after only six hours of deliberation.
Following the actual trial, the court had to decide the sentence. To do so the jury was asked to make a decision on whether the case had aggravating circumstances, because under Florida law a death sentence cannot be passed unless it is shown there was aggravating circumstances. And in this case the jury found that there were aggravating circumstances on a 11-1 vote.
Challenge to Constitutionality of Law and Process
The case is focused on the different roles that the jury and judge play in a capital case that decides whether a defendant can be sentenced to death. The petitioner is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the following, specific questions on whether:
Recent Supreme Court decisions apply to Florida’s death penalty scheme;
A jury’s decision on whether there are aggravating circumstances must be unanimous;
A jury must decide whether a defendant suffers from mental retardation; and,
The lack a unanimous decision by the jury offends the evolving concepts of constitutionality.
If the petitioner successfully pleads these questions, his case will not be overturned, but he would get a chance to escape death-row and have his case heard and decided again on whether he will face the death penalty in the future.
How this case is decided could have major implications in the future. But because it is not on whether the death penalty is constitutional per se, it would not wipe out the death penalty across the country.
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