Gov. Ron DeSantis is on the verge of signing a bill that would allow people in Florida to be executed without a unanimous decision by a jury. Instead, an 8-4 vote would be enough for someone to be put to death in the state.
The bill passed the Florida Senate last month and passed the House on Thursday by an 80-30 margin. The bill has been a priority for DeSantis, who opposed the decision not to sentence to death the Parkland school shooter who killed 17 people in 2018. Three jurors voted against the death penalty in that case.
“I’m sorry, but if you murder 17 people in cold blood, the only appropriate punishment is capital punishment,” DeSantis said in October. “We need to reform some of these laws.”
According to the Washington Post, only three of the 27 states with capital punishment allow people to be executed when a jury is divided during the penalty phase. A unanimous decision would still be required in Florida to convict a defendant.
In 2016, the US Supreme Court struck down a Florida law that allowed judges to decide whether to sentence someone to death after receiving a recommendation from a jury. “The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomyor. “A jury’s mere recommendation is not enough.”
Later that year, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a new state law that did not require unanimity in death penalty cases was unconstitutional. The judges ruled that a unanimous sentencing requirement would “dispel most, if not all, doubts about the future validity and long-term viability of the death penalty in Florida.”
In 2017, the state legislature responded by requiring that death penalty decisions be unanimous. In 2019, DeSantis secured a conservative majority on the state Supreme Court, the News Service of Florida explained. The next year, the court ruled that unanimity was no longer required.