Unanimous jury death penalty requirements at stake

Fla. only state without unanimous jury to recommend death penalty

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida is the only state in the nation with a death penalty that does not require a unanimous jury to recommend a sentence of death.

A simple seven to five vote is all that is required. But there are other trials where unanimity among jurors is required.

For instance, if the government wants to take someone's land to build a new sidewalk and that person disagrees, everyone on a 12-person jury would have to have to say "yes" for the sidewalk to be built.

It's that idea that has some lawmakers trying to change the current death penalty recommendation requirements.

"We have capital punishment. If we're going to do that, we need to be 100 percent sure that the jury is behind that type of decision," said Rep. Mark Afford, D-Palm Beach.

Since the year 2000, only one in five Florida death sentences has had a unanimous jury recommendation.

Since 2005, in a strongly worded opinion, the Florida Supreme Court has been telling state lawmakers that unless they require a unanimous jury verdict, Florida's death penalty could be declared unconstitutional.

One case arguing just that is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Advocates for change say now is the time.

"The purpose is simple, but absolutely compelling," said Mark Schlakman, of the Florida State University Center for Human Rights. "It's to minimize the risk that the state of Florida might execute an innocent person or people that should not be subject to the death penalty."

But opponents are quick point out infamous serial killer Ted Bundy would still be alive. That's because his jury split 10-2 on death. Bundy was executed in 1989.

Convicted killer Larry Mann is scheduled to die at Florida State Prison on April 10. His jury split 9 -3.

Five states abolished capital punishment in the last five years. Seven others are currently considering it. Last month, state lawmakers decided not to abandon capital punishment but to try to speed it up.

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