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Florida Legislature Seeks Unanimous Juries in Death Penalty Cases

Representative Jose J. Rodriguez from Miami introduced a bill that would create a higher standard for juries considering the death penalty.

As Florida law currently stands, a jury may recommend the death penalty in a capital felony case via a simple majority. In fact, Florida currently is the only state in the union that allows for a simple majority of the jury to recommend a death sentence. While the judge has the final say on whether or not a defendant will receive the death penalty, the chances are higher when only a majority of the jury agrees to such a sentence.

Specifics of the Bill

H.B. 139 looks to make it harder for juries to recommend the death sentence. Instead of a majority vote, a jury must unanimously agree to recommend the death sentence in a capital felony or capital drug trafficking felonies. Furthermore, in order to recommend the death penalty the jury must find that sufficient aggravating circumstances used to support the recommendation of death prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

This means, for example, that not only must the defendant be found guilty of murder but all the circumstances surrounding the murder – that make it a felony offense – must meet the high burden of proof. Only then can a jury even consider recommending the death penalty. Once those various factors have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, all members of the jury must agree that the death penalty is warranted.

H.B. 139 also brings the sentencing decision more in line with how guilt is determined. Florida Statute 921.141 establishes the procedure for capital felonies. The first phase is the guilt phase. The jury must determine guilt via a unanimous decision. The second phase, the sentencing phase, is when the jury can determine if the death penalty is appropriate.

From a defense attorney’s standpoint, H.B. 139 can be a huge boon for defendants. If this bill passes, it will now be harder for prosecutors to convince all members of a seven-member jury to recommend the death penalty. This is especially important in a state like Florida. Florida is one of the top states most friendly to prosecutors pushing the death penalty. This year Florida was second in the country in new death sentences (11 new sentences). It is also third in the country in executions (8 executions) and one of the top states with individuals sitting on death row (404).

With such high rates of success, it is no wonder that prosecutors look to push for the death sentence. The introduction of H.B. 139 shows an acknowledgement by the legislature that Florida’s sentencing rules are out of date and unfair to criminal defendants. Criminal justice reform is a hot topic in the state capitol. This is why it is important to have an attorney who is not only familiar with current Florida law but also with any new changes that may impact your case.

Let Me Defend You Today

Do you need help in your criminal case? Are you looking for a skilled attorney who can help defend your rights or appeal your sentence in Florida courts? Please contact Attorney Tony Moss at the Tony Moss Firm, L.L.C. to discuss any criminal defense matters. We have locations in Miami and Fort Lauderdale and we are prepared to help you in any way that we can.

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