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Ideological shift could cause disarray in Florida death sentence appeals

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s death penalty could soon be thrown into disarray for the second time in less than three years. 

Conservative judges appointed by a new governor have decided to take another look at a decision that allows nearly 200 death row inmates to have a new sentencing hearing.

In 2016, Florida’s Supreme Court divided death row in two. 

Prisoners sentenced before a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision stayed on death row, but most of those sentenced after 2002 got a new chance in court to be sentenced to life. 

It has upset many people in law enforcement.

“The first thing I think about is the victims. I think about their families," said Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young. "To put them on trial again, over and over, they are suffering when they have to go through this."

At the time of the decision, the court's two conservative judges objected strenuously. 

Now they are in the majority and are taking another look at the policy. The case will be three years old in December, and it's highly unusual for cases that new to be reversed.

Denying new sentencing hearings has the backing of Attorney General Ashley Moody.

“Many times when we think that court decisions are not founded legally, we try to present that through follow-up cases and briefs, and that’s what we’ve done in this case,” Moody said.

Legal scholar Mark Schlakman said it comes down to fundamental fairness.

“Versus a logical line and judicially manageable standard and the tension between the two,” said Schlakman.

In other words, how many court resources and how much time would be needed to hold more than a hundred new sentencing hearings?

On the day the 2016 ruling was made, there were 384 death row inmates. Currently, there are 43 fewer, and anyone still on death row will be in limbo as new appeals are filed.