Today, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a ruling of 8-1, struck down Florida’s death penalty system, saying in their majority opinion that Florida judges play too great a role in sentencing while juries can only give recommendations.
The court majority decided in Hurst v. Florida that, “The Sixth Amendment protects a defendant’s right to an impartial jury. This right required Florida to base Timothy Hurst’s death sentence on a jury’s verdict, not a judge’s fact finding. Florida’s sentencing scheme, which required the judge alone to find the existence of an aggravating circumstance, is therefore unconstitutional.”
In 1998, Timothy Lee Hurst was convicted of first-degree murder for tying up and stabbing to death his boss, Pensacola restaurant manager Cynthia Harrison. A state jury voted 7-5 in favor of the death penalty. The judge found independent cause and sentenced him to death.
With the new legislative session beginning today, lawmakers will be working to craft new legislation that will bring Florida’s death penalty back online. Read the Supreme Court decisions here: Hurst v. Florida
It will remain to be seen how many of the current 390 Florida death row inmates will file appeals based upon this SCOTUS ruling.