The impact of a historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Florida’s death penalty system is finally emerging as the state’s death row population is smaller than it was more than a decade ago and will keep shrinking for a long time, reports the Miami Herald. Florida has not executed an inmate in 18 months. No inmates have been sent to death row in more than a year, a sign that prosecutors are not trying as many first-degree murder cases because of uncertainties in the sentencing system. “There is no reason to sign a death warrant if you know it’s going to get delayed,” said State Attorney Bernie McCabe of Pinellas and Pasco counties. “I think judges are reluctant to if they don’t know what the rules are.” The death row population now stands at 362, the lowest number since 2004; only a year ago, the population was 389.
Many more cells are certain to be emptied as the Florida Supreme Court continues to vacate death sentences because they violate a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the state’s death penalty sentencing system because it limited jurors to an advisory role, a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury. In four new cases, the state’s high court upheld first-degree murder convictions last Thursday but ordered that all four defendants must be resentenced because of the high court decision, a step that could spare any or all of them a trip to the execution chamber. Up to 150 death sentences could be reversed or sent back to trial courts for resentencing hearings in other cases in which the jury’s recommendation of a death sentence was not unanimous. “I’ll use one word: ‘chaos,’ ” said retired Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan. “It’s just a mess.”