Florida to allow death penalty with 8-4 jury vote instead of unanimously
FILE PHOTO: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis makes his first trip to the early voting state of Iowa for a book tour stop at the Rhythm City Casino Resort in Davenport, Iowa, U.S. March 10, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
(Reuters) -Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign a bill on Friday allowing juries to recommend the death penalty in capital cases on an 8-4 vote, a move spurred by the less-than-unanimous vote that led to the Parkland school shooter being sentenced to life in prison.
The state’s Republican-led House of Representatives approved the measure with an 80-30 vote on Thursday, following the Republican-controlled state Senate’s approval in March.
If the Republican governor signs the bill into law, Florida prosecutors trying capital felony cases would need to convince only two-thirds of the 12-member jury that someone who is convicted deserves the death penalty, rather than a unanimous decision by a jury.
The change only affects the penalty phase of capital trials. It would have no effect on the requirement for a jury’s unanimous vote to convict a defendant.
DeSantis has pushed for the legislation since October when he said he was “very disappointed” after a jury could not come to a unanimous decision on giving a death sentence to Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018.
Three jurors voted to spare Cruz, and by default his sentence was life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
If the bill becomes law, Florida would join Alabama as the only states where a unanimous jury decision is not required, the center noted.
Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina was killed in the Parkland shooting, has been pushing for Florida lawmakers to change the jury requirement.
“Because of the jury’s incorrect decision … the victims, my beautiful daughter, her 13 classmates and her three teachers did not get the justice that they deserve,” Montalto said during an interview on WPLG, an ABC affiliate in South Florida, in March.
DeSantis, widely thought to be weighing a 2024 presidential campaign, has accelerated efforts to build his national profile, especially around crime and justice issues. In February, he traveled to New York, Chicago and Philadelphia to speak to law enforcement groups on criminal justice matters.
Legal and ethical questions have swirled around capital punishment in the United States in recent years as states have found it difficult to procure drugs to carry out the death penalty through lethal injections. Several executions have been botched in recent years.
In 2017, Florida passed a law that required death penalties to be imposed only after a unanimous recommendation by a jury.
The law came after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an earlier state law, saying it unconstitutionally let judges determine the facts that would lead to a death sentence, rather than juries.