The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty cannot be imposed without the unanimous support of a jury. The New York Times says two decisions on the issue deepen “the recent turmoil around capital punishment in a state with a long history of executions.” One decision in a case that previously reached the U.S. Supreme Court and upended Florida’s death penalty system, said that the Eighth Amendment, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment, and Florida law effectively mandate consensus in capital cases. The court said a new state law that allowed for the death penalty when 10 of 12 jurors agreed was unconstitutional.
“Requiring unanimous jury recommendations of death before the ultimate penalty may be imposed will ensure that in the view of the jury — a veritable microcosm of the community — the defendant committed the worst of murders with the least amount of mitigation,” the court said. The ruling sided with Timothy Hurst, a death row inmate whose appeal led lawmakers early this year to rewrite the death penalty law. Nearly all of the 30 states with capital punishment require that a jury unanimously support a death sentence, and the Florida justices said their ruling would allow the state to “achieve the important goal of bringing its capital sentencing laws into harmony with the direction of society reflected in all these states and with federal law.” The rulings shift attention and pressure back to the legislature, which is not scheduled to meet until March. Legislators could also consider the death penalty system during a special session.