Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Only a third of Florida’s executions were the result of unanimous verdicts

Florida has more than 170 people on death row who may not have been condemned to die in any other state — the result of its one-of-a-kind law that allows a jury to recommend capital punishment by a simple majority vote, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Unburdened by the need to reach a unanimous decision, Florida juries typically don’t. Two-thirds of the people Florida has executed since 1995 were condemned to die on the recommendation of fewer than 12 jurors, the Times analysis found.
No other state allows juries to recommend death by a 7-5 vote. Of the 32 states that have the death penalty, 29 require a unanimous vote of 12. Alabama requires 10. Delaware calls for jurors to unanimously agree on whether the defendant is eligible for the death penalty, but their sentencing recommendation can be split.
The number of inmates Florida has executed since 1995 might be very different if the state required more jurors to agree before sending prisoners to death row.
First take away the 7-5 cases. No other state allows a single juror to decide.
Then remove the 8-4s. The chart is now showing cases with at least 9 votes, which Florida prosecutors recently proposed making the state’s new standard.
Take away 9-3 cases to see how many others would meet the bar in Alabama, which requires at least 10 votes — the next most lax state after Florida.
Remove the 10-2 votes. More than half of the cases are now gone.
Take away the 11-1s. Only a third of Florida’s executions were unanimous — the level required in 29 of 32 states.
This month, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida’s death penalty statute, forcing the Legislature to rewrite it. Although the court did not explicitly address the issue of non-unanimous jury votes, legal experts say this part of Florida’s law is in constitutional jeopardy.
The Times reviewed more than 450 death penalty cases dating back decades to determine how juries voted in the penalty phase of capital trials. The juries’ sentencing recommendations are merely advisory, another unusual feature, but no Florida judge has ignored a jury’s guidance in nearly two decades.
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