Florida Death-Penalty Law Survives on Appeal in 2016

Florida’s controversial death-penalty law managed to survive a recent appeal to a Florida appeals panel. The panel reversed a lower court ruling, allowing the state’s pending prosecution of death penalty cases to continue after a new sentencing law went into effect in April of 2016.  The state of Florida brought this consolidated case to the Fifth District Court of Appeals after the lower court had sided with two defendants accused of murder.

These defendants argued that the state was not permitted to pursue the death penalty on the grounds that the United States Supreme Court struck down Florida law that gave judges the authority to override jury verdicts and impose the death penalty. The trial court agreed with the defendants based on the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Hurst v. Florida. In the Hurst case, the court determined that Florida’s sentencing scheme was in violation of the Sixth Amendment, which gives defendants the right to a trial by jury. In the wake of the Court’s decision, executions were put on hold. This, in turn, led Florida legislators to undertake efforts to fix their laws in order to comply with the Court’s holding.

Lawmakers changed the law and created new sentencing guidelines, which state that at least 10 jurors must decide on the death penalty and also prevent a judge from overruling the jury’s decision. Governor Scott signed these new sentencing guidelines into law.

The appeals court held that, since the new sentencing guidelines have already taken effect after Governor Scott’s signing, the Supreme Court decision is applicable only to how a death penalty is handed down, not the penalty itself. Judge Richard Orfinger stated that “we have no difficulty in concluding that Hurst struck down the process of imposing a sentence of death, not the death penalty itself.

Other Recent Legal Developments

Yet another state appeals court has recently decided to clear the path for prosecutors seeking death sentences in murder cases. This time, it was the 2nd District Court of Appeal that sided with prosecutors advocating for the death penalty. In the four cases brought before the 2nd District Court of Appeal, the defendants had accused murders between 2011 and 2015. Indictments came prior to the influential Hurst decision, but the defendants had not yet gone to trial. After the Hurst decision, two defendants requested that circuit judges prevent their trial from continuing as a death-penalty case. Circuit judges agreed, holding that life in prison was the only sentence available in light of the decision in Hurst. Again, however, the appeals court sided with the prosecutors, using much of the same reasoning of the decision made by the Fifth District Court of Appeals in April.

The Impact on Florida Criminal Defendants

Going forward, it seems that there is a clear trend toward the continuation of the death penalty in the state of Florida. More clarity may be provided if the Florida Supreme Court decides to provide a definitive answer as to whether or not the Hurst decision declared Florida’s death penalty law unconstitutional. For now, however, defendants should remain aware of the possibility that their crimes may lead to a penalty of death.

If you have been accused of a crime that carries the possibility of a Florida death sentence, Florida criminal defense attorney John F. Greene is ready to provide you with the legal counsel you need. Few legal punishments are more terrifying than a death sentence, and John F. Greene provides comforting, compassionate and zealous legal counsel and representation to prevent a death sentence from being issued.

From his office in Destin, John F. Greene represents Destin criminal defendants as well as defendants throughout the Emerald Coast and Northwest Florida, including Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton and Bay Counties. He also represents any criminal defendant charged in the Destin, Santa Rosa Beach, Fort Walton Beach, Niceville and Panama City communities.

If you are in need of a Florida criminal defense lawyer who fights to have death-penalty charges reduced or dismissed, contact attorney John F. Greene or call 850-424-6833.


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