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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Florida Revises Death Penalty

Last week, Florida governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law that prevents judges from overruling juries’ recommendations for life imprisonment and imposing death sentences instead. A recent article from the Equal Justice Initiative covers the details and impacts of this change in Florida’s death penalty sentencing. As a result, there are only two other states in the nation–Delaware and Alabama–that allow judges to impose death sentences even after juries have recommended life imprisonment.

The article states that “Florida’s legislature changed the law in response to a United States Supreme Court decision in January which held that Florida’s capital sentencing scheme violated the Sixth Amendment’s requirement that a jury, not a judge, must find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death.”

Florida’s new law requires that if a jury recommends a life sentence, the judge imposes life in prison, whereas if a jury recommends death, the judge has the choice to sentence the defendant to either death or life in prison. 10 jurors, not 7, now must recommend death in order for the judge to be able to impose a death sentence, but Florida still does not require that jury recommendations for death be unanimous. Florida and Alabama remain the only two states that allow for a jury to recommend death even if the verdict is non-unanimous.

According to the article, Alabama actually “has the same statute as Florida’s old scheme. Alabama judges have overridden jury life recommendations 101 times, and nearly 20 percent of the people currently on Alabama’s death row were sentenced to death through judicial override. An Alabama trial judge ruled last week that Alabama’s statute is unconstitutional in light of the recent Supreme Court decision.”

To read the EJI article entitled “Florida Abolishes Death Sentences by Judicial Override,” click here.