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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Florida Revamps Death Penalty, Making It Harder to Sentence Someone to Die

Florida's Death Chamber
Florida's Death Chamber
MIAMI — With Florida’s capital punishment system at a standstill, the state Senate passed a compromise bill on Thursday that would overhaul Florida’s death sentencing law, allowing the state to resume death penalty prosecutions by making it harder for juries to send someone to death row.

The legislation, which seeks to address the objections of the Supreme Court in its decision to strike down Florida’s capital punishment law, passed the Senate by a vote of 35 to 5. The measure will be sent to Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to sign it into law.

While the state Senate had sought a tougher, broader bill on death penalty sentencing, it agreed to a compromise with the more conservative Florida House. Florida has one of the more active death rows in the country, with 390 prisoners, and a brisk pace of executions. After the Supreme Court decision in January, two death row inmates were granted indefinite stays of execution pending, in part, a fix to Florida’s death penalty law. Death penalty prosecutions have mostly stalled in the courts.

The new legislation does not resolve the issue of when executions in the state would resume and which death row inmates, if any, would be resentenced to life in prison without parole under the expected new law. Those decisions will be left to the state courts.

The compromise bill would make it more difficult to hand down death sentences by requiring a jury vote of 10 to 2. Jurors currently can recommend a death sentence by a simple 7-to-5 majority vote. The change falls short of the unanimous verdict that death penalty critics in Florida sought for capital punishment cases. It continues to make Florida an outlier; only one other state, Alabama, allows a 10-to-2 death verdict as opposed to a unanimous decision in capital punishment cases.

Republican supporters of the bill said that if it became law, Florida’s death penalty system would be stronger and satisfy the Supreme Court.


Source: The New York Times, March 3, 2016

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