FL High Court Says Death Penalty Cases Can Proceed

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In an “about-face” after a previous ruling, the Florida Supreme Court has ordered that death penalty cases can proceed in the state even with an unconstitutional law still on the books, reports the News Service of Florida. The order came as the legislature prepares to address a pair of Florida high court rulings last fall that struck down the state’s most recent death-penalty sentencing scheme as unconstitutional and effectively halted capital cases. The state court ruled that a new law that was passed in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision was unconstitutional because it required only 10 jurors to recommend death “as opposed to the constitutionally required unanimous, 12-member jury.”

The October majority opinion found that the new law “cannot be applied to pending prosecutions.” In a reversal of that decision on Monday, the court’s majority in a 5-2 decision ruled that capital cases can move forward, even before lawmakers fix the statute. Attorney General Pam Bondi said the decision “provides our courts with the clarification needed to proceed with murder cases in which the death penalty is sought.” The ruling sent public defenders scrambling and prompted cheers from prosecutors. A spate of death penalty-related rulings by the Florida court had “created a great deal of paralysis and uncertainty in the system,” said House Judiciary Chairman Chris Sprowls, a former prosecutor. A dissenting justice, Barbara Pariente, argued that what could be a “temporary” fix, until lawmakers address the issue could lead to more litigation.

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