U.S. Supreme Court Declares Florida’s Death Penalty Sentencing System Unconstitutional

By  //  January 12, 2016

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'We hold this sentencing scheme unconstitutional'

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declared that Florida's death penalty sentencing system is unconstitutional. The case focused on the role of juries in recommending whether defendants should receive the death penalty. SCOTUS members include Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Justice Elena Kagan. (SCOTUS image)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declared that Florida’s death penalty sentencing system is unconstitutional. The case focused on the role of juries in recommending whether defendants should receive the death penalty. SCOTUS members include Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Justice Elena Kagan. (SCOTUS image)

JUSTICES VOTE 8-1, 390 INMATES ON FLORIDA DEATH ROW

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declared that Florida’s death penalty sentencing system is unconstitutional.

The case focused on the role of juries in recommending whether defendants should receive the death penalty.

“We hold this sentencing scheme unconstitutional,” the Supreme Court opinion said.

“The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death. A jury’s mere recommendation is not enough.”

Currently, Florida law requires the trial judge and not the jury to make the critical findings necessary to impose capital punishment, and that procedure is counter to Supreme Court cases which held that facts that add to a defendant’s punishment — known as aggravating circumstances — must be found by a jury.

“The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death. A jury’s mere recommendation is not enough,” wrote Sonia Sotomayor for the court’s 8-1 majority.

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Timothy Lee Hurst

As a result of the SCOTUS decision, the case of Timothy Lee Hurst will be referred back to the lower courts. Hurst was convicted of First Degree Murder in April 2000 for the murder of Cynthia Harrison during a robbery at Popeye’s fast food restaurant in Pensacola in May 1998.

There are currently 390 inmates on the Florida’s death row, including five women.

“Every defendant in Florida whose death sentence was imposed in this matter will be challenging the constitutionality of his or her death sentence under Hurst,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Connie Fuselier, the mother of Hurst’s victim, said she doesn’t care if he is executed at this point, but she can’t bear the thought of more legal proceedings.

“It’s been hell,” she told NBC News. “When you get to thinking it’s over with, it starts all over again. It’s nerve-racking.”

 


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