On Friday, the Florida Supreme Court deemed the state’s new death penalty sentencing statute unconstitutional, as reported by BuzzFeed News. Under the law, which was passed earlier this year, a jury could recommend the death penalty if it was favored in a 10-2 vote. The death penalty can now only be recommended if it is decided on unanimously by a jury or by a judge.
The recent decree also overturns the death sentences of Timothy Lee Hurst and Larry Darnell Perry, as their cases will now head back to trial for new sentencing. BuzzFeed News reports that the decisions regarding Hurst’s and Perry’s cases have now put other death penalty trials on hold, as Florida’s legislature and executive branch coordinate how to move forward.
The U.S Supreme Court had originally struck down the state’s jury recommendation for the death penalty in January, saying the death penalty could only happen based on “a judge’s fact finding.” The Florida Supreme Court wrote a jury needed to unanimously agree on the death penalty before it would be considered:
“[W]e hold that the Supreme Court’s decision in Hurst v. Florida requires that all the critical findings necessary before the trial court may consider imposing a sentence of death must be found unanimously by the jury…based on Florida’s requirement for unanimity in jury verdicts, and under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, that in order for the trial court to impose a sentence of death, the jury’s recommended sentence of death must be unanimous.”
It’s believed that death row inmates whose sentences have not been finalized yet will receive a resentencing opportunity, but it’s not known if the decision will apply retroactively to the nearly 400 other people awaiting execution. Florida has the largest death row in the U.S, and this latest decision may help change that distinction.