Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Florida's Flawed Death Penalty Process

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Florida's Flawed Death Penalty Process

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court pushed Florida a step closer into the future by forcing it to part with an antiquated way of convicting people of capital crimes.

It ruled that the state's system for allowing judges to overrule jurors in deciding whether to mete out the death penalty was unconstitutional.

While state law allows juries in capital cases to recommend a death sentence or life in prison without parole, judges are allowed to toss out jury recommendations. In Florida, judges have disregarded jury recommendations some 300 times since 1972 - the year capital punishment was reinstated.

Florida is the only state besides Alabama that allows this.

What's more is that the high court's ruling has sent lawmakers scrambling to revamp a key part of the law that governs how the death penalty is imposed. Instead of requiring only a simple majority of jurors to vote to sentence someone to die, legislators are now considering a 10-2 vote.

But even if that happens, Florida will still be part of an anachronistic trio. Florida, along with Delaware and Alabama, are the only states that don't require a unanimous jury vote for a death sentence.

While the Supreme Court's decision may mean that some death sentences could be reconsidered, or that it may become tougher for people to be sentenced to death, it still doesn't touch the real problem with the state's death penalty - that problem being that too many people wind up being wrongfully convicted by many of those same jurors because their lawyers didn't represent them well or for a host of other reasons.

"That doesn't solve Florida's problem of innocent people going to death row," Mark Elliott, director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, told me. "The death penalty still discriminates against people who can't afford a lawyer . …

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