Florida Should Require Unanimous Jury to Impose a Death Sentence, Officials Say

Former Texas Governor Mark White and former Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley urged members of the Florida state senate to back legislation requiring a unanimous jury recommendation in order to impose the death penalty.  Although it requires a unanimous jury verdict to convict a defendant, Florida is one of only three states that allow a jury to then sentence that person to death with anything less than a unanimous finding.

“We firmly believe jury unanimity is required to ensure a just and reliable result,” White and Earley wrote in a letter organized by The Constitution Project and delivered to members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on March 9, noting that although Florida has reversed the death sentences of 24 inmates, more than any other state, no unanimous jury verdict recommending death has been overturned.

“Simple majority decisions serve to silence important objections by some jurors.  By requiring jurors to unanimously support a death sentence, this bill (Senate Bill 664) would encourage every juror to spend meaningful time deliberating, seriously discussing evidence, and engaging in the decision-making process,” they wrote.

White, a Democrat, oversaw 19 executions as governor; Earley, a Republican, was responsible for 36 as attorney general.  Both are members of TCP Death Penalty Committee.

The letter notes that courts have expressed “serious objections to Florida’s capital punishment system.”  In fact, on the same the day the letters from White and Earley were delivered to the Florida legislators, the US Supreme Court accepted a case, Hurst v Florida, challenging the state’s death penalty statute for not requiring a unanimous jury at sentencing.

In addition to the letter from White and Earley, TCP organized and delivered two similar letters to the same state senators, one from seven former Florida judges and prosecutors, the other from 19 former judges and prosecutors from other death penalty states, including Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas.

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