Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Shorstein Supports Sentencing Reform; Ex-State Attorney Wants Unanimous Verdicts for Death Sentences

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Shorstein Supports Sentencing Reform; Ex-State Attorney Wants Unanimous Verdicts for Death Sentences

Article excerpt

Byline: Larry Hannan

Former Jacksonville State Attorney Harry Shorstein is calling on the Legislature to change the law so that someone cannot be sentenced to death without a unanimous recommendation from a jury.

Shorstein was one of several people who spoke last week, days before the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case that could end with the justices finding Florida's entire death penalty procedure unconstitutional.

But Shorstein, who was state attorney from 1991 to 2009, said the impact of the issue could be mitigated if the Legislature changes the law before the Supreme Court rules.

"We hope to persuade our legislative leaders to do something to avoid this," Shorstein said.

Shorstein spoke at a news conference sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union. Shorstein said he supports the death penalty but has become frustrated with how the system works and isn't sure there's a way to fix it.

Florida, Delaware and Alabama are the only states that don't require juries in death penalty cases to reach a unanimous decision when sentencing someone to death. In Florida a jury must unanimously vote to convict someone of first-degree murder and then decides whether to recommend death after a separate sentencing hearing.

Lawyers for Timothy Hurst, a Panhandle man on Death Row for killing an Escambia County fast-food manager, is appealing his death sentence to the U.S. Supreme Court. Oral arguments in the case will occur Tuesday, with a ruling expected in spring 2016.

Jurors in his case recommended death by a 7-5 vote, and his attorneys say Florida's law allowing a sentence of death without a unanimous jury violates Hurst's Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Hurst, the sentencing of hundreds of people could be impacted. …

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