A federal judge has ruled that the way Florida courts mete out the death penalty is unconstitutional because juries — not judges — should be the ones to spell out which details about the crime justify execution, says the Miami Herald. U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez ordered that Paul Evans, convicted in a 1991 murder-for-hire case, must receive a new sentencing hearing.
The ruling does not strike down Florida's capital-punishment law. But it could force lawmakers to change the statute, and could give recent convicts new avenues for appeal, legal experts say. Martinez was appointed in 2002 by President George W. Bush. Legal scholars say Martinez's ruling marks the first time a Florida judge has overturned a death sentence under the U.S. Supreme Court case Ring v. Arizona. In that 2002 ruling, the court held that defendants are entitled to have juries decide on whether any “aggravating factors” in a crime justify enhanced punishment.