Florida governor Ron DeSantis wants to make it easier for juries to order death sentences, potentially contradicting US Supreme Court precedent.
Currently, juries in Florida need to be unanimous in their decision to seek an execution.
However, at a Monday meeting with the Florida Sheriff’s Association, the Republican governor called for lowering that threshold to as just a three-quarters majority.
“Fine, have a supermajority. But you can’t just say one person. So maybe eight out of 12 have to agree? Or something. But we can’t be in a situation where one person can just derail this,” he said, Florida Politics reports.
The governor then incorrectly blamed the unanimity requirement for the Parkland mass shooter avoiding the death penalty, even though three people voted against a death sentence.
“And so I think you had an 11 to one decision, where the 11 said he should get capital punishment,” Mr DeSantis continued. “One said no. And we don’t know what went into that. But I do think there are people who get on these juries who never intend to administer capital punishment.”
A unanimous verdict has been required for a death sentence since 2017, following a string of US Supreme Court and Florida appeals court decisions striking down the state’s previous system, which allowed a simple majority to order an execution with the permission of a presiding judge.
In 2016, in Hurst v Florida, the Supreme Court found that the previous system violated the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.
“The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death,” the high court wrote in its ruling. “A jury’s mere recommendation is not enough.”
During the sheriff’s meeting, the Florida governor said he could overrule these decisions by writing a new law.
“Bottom line is this probably can be changed by statute,” he said.
Florida historically has among the busiest execution chambers in the country, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, though it hasn’t executed anyone since 2019.
The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty – with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.