Washington – The Supreme Court ruled on an aspect of the Florida’s capital punishment system this Tuesday. They declared that the jurors do not have enough weight in the death penalty sentence, and the ultimate decision should not be based only in the judge’s final word.
They blame the Florida’s system for letting a judge dictate the final facts for a death row decision.
A main cause of the ruling was Hurst V. Florida, No. 14-7505. Thimothy Lee Hurst was prosecuted in 1998 for the murder of Cynthia Lee Harrison, his manager, at a Popeyes restaurant in Escambia County Fla. The accused stabbed the women with a box cutter, put the body in a freezer and stole about $1000 from the establishment, jurors found. He was sentenced to death in 2000.
The case was decided to be resentenced by the Florida Supreme Court. The second jury voted 7 to 5 and recommended a death sentence without specifying the aggravating factors they had found.
The judge then sentenced Hurst to death and concluded that the factors that applied were that the man committed the murder while in a robbery and that the crime was heinous.
“The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death. A Jury’s mere recommendation is not enough”, wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She referred the procedure as “unconstitutional”.
The justices based their ruling on a 2002 Supreme Court decision in Arizona that declared that a Jury, not a judge, must determine the necessary facts to impose a death sentence, as reported by Reuters.
Hurst is described by his lawyers as mentally disabled with “borderline intelligence”, and an IQ between 70 and 78.
There are 390 people currently on death row in Florida. This puts the sunshine state as the second with most death row inmates. The recent ruling could affect the ongoing cases in the state, but the ones where the decision is final will not be retrial.