The death penalty has caused controversy since it was first made a legal possibility and this controversy has only increased every year as more and more people come out against it. While the death penalty is legal under federal law, various states have made it illegal over time. It is currently legal in 32 states with prisoners in 35 states currently on death row (the death penalty is illegal in Connecticut, Maryland, and New Mexico but isn’t retroactive so prisoners who were on death row will still be executed). Now it seems as though the Supreme Court is being called in to look at certain state’s death penalty laws.
Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that the way Florida handed down its death penalty rulings is unconstitutional and needed to be changed. This is a big deal for a number of reasons, one of which is that Florida currently has one of the country’s most crowded death row systems and seems to hand out the death penalty with more ease than other states in which it’s legal. With the Florida lawmaking session ending in six weeks and prosecutions for cases that have capital punishment as a possible sentence currently stalled, lawmakers in Florida are rushing to create new legislation that will answer the concerns of the court while simultaneously keeping constituents happy.
Up until now, Florida’s death penalty only required a simple majority of a 12-person jury to recommend a death sentence to a judge who would then decide on the punishment — most other states require unanimous jury recommendations. With the 2nd largest number of inmates on death row (behind only California) but the highest execution rate in the country, Florida’s court system is now in turmoil as it tries to figure out a fix. The Supreme Court ruled that the current law gave too much power to judges and not enough to juries, flying in the face of the Sixth Amendment and becoming unconstitutional in the process. While there is no set fix to the ruling yet, it will be interesting to see whether the laws change on a grand scale or simply on a smaller scale targeted to this specific ruling.
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