Florida Supreme Court rules unanimous juries needed to impose death sentences, overturning state law

Florida Supreme Court building, Tallahassee

Florida Supreme Court building, Tallahassee

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday that juries must unanimously recommend death sentences before a judge can impose them, a decision which declares unconstitutional current state law and complicates the fate of nearly 400 death-row inmates.

In their 5-2 ruling, justices vacated the death sentence of Timothy Lee Hurst, who was convicted of killing a co-worker at a Pensacola fast-food restaurant in 1998.

The U.S. Supreme Court in January reviewed Hurst’s case and ruled against Florida’s death penalty sentencing law because a jury’s role in the state was advisory, with the judge making all critical findings. The high court said this violated the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.

Florida justices, however, stopped short Friday of vacating all death sentences in the state. Florida is second only to California in the number of people on death row.

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