Bill to Change Death Penalty Requirement Moves Forward to Senate

April 1, 2023 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes

The Senate Rules Committee held a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the bills on potentially changing Florida’s requirements for the death penalty.

According to the report, there was a 15-4 vote in favor of approving SB 450. The proposed bill would change the requirement from unanimous to a majority vote of eight out of twelve jurors. The bill has been referred to as “the most aggressive of all 50 states.”

SB 450 is being sponsored by Blaise Ingoglia, who claims that the state should move away from unanimity since just one “protest juror” could prevent a death penalty sentence. The topic of the death penalty arose in Florida lawmakers after Nikolas Cruz was sentenced to life in prison instead of the death penalty. Cruz was the shooter in the 2018 Parkland High School massacre.

“I believe unanimity is a very, very high bar—too high of a bar,” Ingoglia said to the Rules Committee.

Previously, Florida had the ability to impose the death penalty only based on a majority vote. However, in 2016, the law changed after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling held that the current Florida law was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court case of Hurst v. Florida declared that the State’s system for the death penalty was unconstitutional; the legislature pass a law to change the vote to a 10-2 vote by the jury before a judge could impose the death penalty sentence. In October 2016, it was decided that there needed to be a unanimous vote to sentence a defendant to death.

When Gov. Ron DeSantis was voted into office in 2019, he announced his plan to create a majority vote rather than unanimity. The Florida Supreme Court reversed its decision and said that a unanimous jury was not needed—despite it remaining as the law.

If the bill passes, it will only affect the sentencing process for a capital case. That means the jury would still be required to come to a unanimous decision in finding the defendant guilty. This is referred to as the “guilt phase” of a criminal case.

Despite the majority vote to move the bill forward, there is still opposition to changing the unanimous voting requirement. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Senator, claimed that “unanimity is the right balance when death is the final penalty.”

“It’s hard to reverse an execution, and I think the current state of the law is sufficient,” Rouson said.

SB 450

Titled the “Death Penalty” bill, SB 450 states that it would only require a specific number of jurors to vote on sentencing a person to the death penalty. Previously, Florida has required a unanimous vote from the entire jury in order to sentence a defendant to capital punishment.

HB 555

The companion bill to SB 450 is HB 555 which is titled, “Sentencing Proceedings in the Death Penalty Cases.” As stated in the bill, it would be considered appropriate and accurate to sentence a defendant to death if there are at least eight jurors who vote in favor of the death penalty. If there are less than eight jurors who vote in favor of capital punishment, then the defendant would face life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Criminal Charges That Can Result in the Death Penalty in Florida

To issue the death penalty as a punishment implies that the defendant has committed the harshest of offenses. This is typically referred to as a “capital felony.” The following is a list of criminal offenses in Florida which could result in receiving the death penalty:

  • First-degree murder with aggravating circumstances;
  • Capital drug trafficking;
  • Armed kidnapping;
  • Certain felony crimes that have resulted in death or added sexual components.

Florida Statute Section 921.141 explains that the jury is required to deliberate after all evidence and aggravating factors have been presented in the trial. Aggravating factors are considered as any of the following:

  • The defendant was previously convicted of a felony prior to the capital felony;
  • The capital felony was committed during the commission or attempt of any: robbery, aggravated child abuse, abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult resulting in great bodily harm, arson, burglary, kidnapping, aircraft piracy, unlawful throwing or placing of a destructive device;
  • The capital felony was committed for the purpose of avoiding a lawful arrest;
  • The capital felony was committed for pecuniary gain;
  • The capital felony was committed to disrupt or hinder the lawful exercise of any governmental function or enforcement of laws;
  • The capital felony was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel;
  • The capital felony was a homicide and was committed in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification;
  • The victim of the capital felony was a law enforcement officer, an elected public official, a child under the age of 12, or a person considered particularly vulnerable due to age or disability;
  • The capital felony was committed by a gang member or person designated as a sexual predator.

To get charged with a capital felony is extremely serious. If you or someone you know has been charged with a capital felony, it is in your best interest to speak with a defense attorney as soon as possible.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

It is important to stay up to date with the newly proposed bills regarding Florida’s capital punishment. If the new bills are passed, it means that more defendants could be sentenced to death. If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime that may be considered a capital felony, you should immediately seek out legal guidance. An experienced Tallahassee criminal defense lawyer can help by reviewing the details of your case, build a strong defense, and protect your rights throughout the process.

At Pumphrey Law Firm, our attorneys understand the stress that a person is under when facing criminal allegations. We want to alleviate the burden by taking charge of your case and working towards earning your freedom. Don Pumphrey has represented clients all across the state for various offenses. Our team will fight vigorously for you and your case. Contact us today for a free consultation at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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