Possibly showing its hand on the future of capital punishment in Florida, the state Supreme Court voted 5-2 vote yesterday forbid the state from imposing the death penalty in pending prosecutions, only to withdraw the order hours later as “prematurely issued,” reports the Associated Press. The unusual move was made necessary by an “internal error,” said court spokesman Craig Waters. It leaves prosecutors in a troubling limbo, signaling that they may be taking a risk if they pursue the death penalty in murder cases. One prosecutor said the Florida Legislature needs to act quickly to craft a death penalty law that passes constitutional scrutiny.
“These are the most serious cases we handle, and are incredibly emotional in the best of circumstances,” said State Attorney Jack Campbell, who this week took over as the lead prosecutor for several north Florida counties. “Uncertainty in the law is terrible for the victim’s families, for the defendants. It’s very important to me they get this sorted out as quickly as possible, as definitively as possible.” A year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the state’s death penalty sentencing law unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges to make the ultimate decision. The legislature responded by overhauling the law, but rejected calls to require a unanimous jury decision in future cases, instead allowing the death penalty to be imposed by a 10-2 jury vote. In October, the state Supreme Court voted 5-2 to strike down the new law and require unanimous jury decisions for capital punishment.