“It is stunning that the Florida Legislature would weaken a commonsense law passed just six years ago that required unanimous agreement by a jury in order to sentence someone to death. The new legislation requiring only eight of 12 jurors to agree in order to impose a death sentence takes our state backwards to outlier status once again with the lowest standard for imposing a death sentence,” Sheedy said in an April 13 statement.
“As Florida persists in its implementation of the death penalty, the process should be as reliable and just as possible. Unanimity is required in every other circumstance when a jury is summoned in Florida. The harshest punishment that the state imposes should require the strictest standards.”
Before 2016, Florida law provided that prisoners could be sentenced to death by a simple majority of jurors, and judges could override juries’ sentencing decisions to impose capital punishment even when jurors thought it was not warranted, the New York Times reported. That year, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Hurst v. Florida that that arrangement was unconstitutional, leading the Florida Legislature to adopt a law requiring unanimous jury decisions to impose the death penalty.
In 2020, the Florida Supreme Court issued a nonbinding opinion that the unanimity requirement could be reversed, the Times reported. The push to change Florida’s law was accelerated by the October 2022 sentencing of Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. Cruz was sentenced to life in prison after the jury voted 9-3 in favor of the death penalty, a result that angered the family members of Cruz’s victims.
“We are deeply saddened for the victims of violent crime. We acknowledge the pain experienced by their families and pray they receive comfort and healing in their time of need. The death penalty neither restores life nor alleviates suffering but only perpetuates violence and vengeance,” Sheedy continued.
“The FCCB continues to oppose state-sanctioned killing and remains hopeful that despite this setback Florida will soon join the growing number of states that have ended the use of the death penalty.”