TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In a surprising ruling, the Florida Supreme Court has refused the state’s efforts to reinstate the death penalty for two convicted murders, and the decision will mean at least 100 other murderers facing death will get another chance at life in prison.
In 2016, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that anyone sentenced to death by a less than unanimous jury after 2002 was entitled to a new sentence. Then earlier this year, it backtracked, saying only some parts of a jury decision must be unanimous. FIU law professor Hanna Gorman says the defense community was worried.
“There was a new court. The composition changed and changed significantly, and what that meant to Flordia death penalty jurisprudence, is that we were seeing a number of decisions that were increasingly concerning,” said Gorman, who works on criminal justice issues.
Following that January ruling, the state moved to send two murderers back to death row on their old death sentence. But in a ruling that surprised many, the court said no.
Pete Mills is the Chair of the Florida Public Defenders Death Penalty Steering Committee.
“We did not anticipate this ruling. We expected the court would do something else” says Mills.
This decision leaves 100 convicted killers awaiting a new sentence.
“There will be various outcomes,” says Mills. “There will be retrials for re-sentencing. The state and defense will cut plea agreements in some of the cases, and the state might simply decide not to go forward.”
And even though the court has backtracked on unanimity, it is still the law in Florida until lawmakers change it says Human Rights Attorney Mark Schlakman.
“The ultimate determination and emphasis should be justice,” says Schlakman.
The ruling will force the families of the victims in those one hundred cases to relive their anguish.
And if the state doesn’t want to seek the death penalty again, those convicted will remain in prison for life with no chance of parole.
Since 2016, about 50 death row prisoners have been re-sentenced.