State appeals in case overturning death penalty law


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The state has filed an appeal in a Miami-Dade County case in which a circuit judge struck down a law that allows death sentences to be imposed without unanimous jury decisions.

The appeal, which had been expected, was filed last week in the 3rd District Court of Appeal, according to an online docket.

Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch ruled May 9 that unanimous jury decisions are required in imposing death sentences, rather than recommendations from majorities or super-majorities of juries.

The issue deals with the sentencing phase of death-penalty cases after defendants are found guilty.

Hirsch's ruling came after a series of events that started in January when the U.S. Supreme Court found that Florida's death-penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges, instead of juries.

State lawmakers then passed a measure to revamp the sentencing process to try to address the Supreme Court's ruling.

As part of that new law, judges cannot impose the death penalty without receiving a recommendation from at least 10 jurors.

In the past, a majority of jurors could make such a recommendation.

Hirsch wrote that unanimity is required, as he ruled in a first-degree murder case involving defendant Karon Gaiter.