FEATURED POST

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

Image
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 Supreme Court: More than 200 death row inmates were given unconstitutional death sentences

Florida's death chamber
Florida's death chamber
The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that more than half the people on Florida's death row are entitled to a new sentencing hearing because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that found the state's death penalty unconstitutional.

The decision covers more than 200 inmates — and includes all of those who were sentenced after 2002 or whose appeals were not final by that year.

It is a legal decision that death row inmates, prosecutors, defense attorneys and the families of murder victims have awaited since January, when it became clear that Florida needed to rework its death penalty statute to bring it into line with the way other states handled those cases, specifically by requiring that juries — not judges —make the key findings required to impose a death sentence.

It also suggests that trial courts across Florida are about to be swamped by death row inmates, asking to be resentenced.

All those resentencings would be a Herculean task for trial judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys across the state, said Orange-Osceola Public Defender Robert Wesley who predicted that they could create a backlog that might take ten years to unjam.

The ruling applies to more than 40 Central Florida convicted murderers.

They include Bessman Okafor, who in 2012 murdered an Orange County man who was about to testify against him at a home invasion trial; ax murderer John Buzia, a handyman convicted of killing an elderly Seminole County man in 2004; and Michael Gordon Reynolds, who beat and stabbed to death a Seminole County father, mother and 11-year-old daughter in the community of Geneva in 1998.

A moratorium since January


Thursday's decision is the result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January.

By a vote of 8-1, that court ruled that jurors – not a judge – must specifically identify why someone convicted of a capital crime should be put to death.

That case involved Timothy Lee Hurst, a Pensacola man convicted of murdering his boss at a Popeyes Fried Chicken restaurant in 1998 with a box cutter then putting her body in a freezer.

The high court found that Florida's death penalty statute was unconstitutional but left it to the Florida Supreme Court to decide whether the ruling should apply retroactively.

The state has not executed an inmate since then.

The state supreme court has issued several death penalty rulings in the interim. Some hinted that it would interpret the Hurst decision broadly but each stopped short of spelling it out.

On Thursday, that changed. The court laid it out: Every death penalty handed down in Florida since 2002 is unconstitutional. That's 55 percent of the state's death row population.

That's because in 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling – Ring v. Arizona – that generally said the same thing to the state of Arizona that the high court said to Florida in the Hurst decision 14 years later: Juries – not judges – must decide whether the death penalty is appropriate.

One of the factors the Florida Supreme Court had to take into consideration was how disruptive to the day-to-day workings of Florida's court system their decision would be.

Invalidating every death sentence as unconstitutional, the justices concluded, would be too burdensome. That's why they limited it to those inmates who were sentenced after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Ring decision in 2002.

Even so, Thursday's decision suggests that any Florida inmate who was given the death penalty after the 2002 is entitled to be resentenced.

That would require a mini-trial in each case at which a new jury would listen to evidence then rule whether the evidence justified the death penalty.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, Rene Stutzman and Gal Tziperman Lotan, December 22, 2016

⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; submit a piece; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

Texas: With a man's execution days away, his victims react with fury or forgiveness

Texas executes Christopher Young

Ohio executes Robert Van Hook

Saudi Arabia executes seven people in one day

Execution date pushed back for Texas 7 escapee after paperwork error on death warrant

Ohio Governor commutes one sentence, delays another

Ex-Aum member Yoshihiro Inoue’s last words: ‘I didn’t expect things to turn out this way’

Iran: Man executed in Mashhad; billionaire to hang over embezzlement charges

20 Minutes to Death: Record of the Last Execution in France

Oklahoma: Death row inmate’s legal team hopes DNA testing on key piece of evidence will exonerate him before execution