In response to the outrage from the victims’ families following a verdict sparing a school shooter from execution, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida lawmakers proposed legislation making it easier to send convicts to death row by eliminating a unanimous jury requirement in capital punishment sentencing.
The idea follows a jury’s decision in November to spare Nikolas Cruz, the shooter who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, the death penalty. The jury was split 9-3. In contrast, the Parkland school shooter was given a life sentence.
Many people were incensed by the Cruz decision, which likely sparked Florida to no longer demand unanimous consent for the death penalty.
Republican lawmakers sponsored legislation to allow the jury to decide to impose the death penalty even if only eight of the jury’s twelve members agree, which would become Florida the only state to do so.
Only three of the 27 states that use the death sentence do not demand unanimous approval. When there is a split jury, Alabama permits a 10-2 decision, but Missouri and Indiana allow the judge to make the call.
A necessary change from unanimity to 8-4, according to Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter Gina perished in the massacre, would stop “one activist juror from denying the victims’ families justice.”
The individuals who face the death penalty have already been found guilty of murder; they are not random suspects, according to Montalto.
Republican DeSantis, anticipating announcing his bid for the White House in 2024 in the late spring or early summer, has not signed as many death warrants as his forebears.
Still, he has stated that Cruz deserved the death penalty and that, given a chance, he would have hastened Cruz’s execution.
DeSantis pushed for the modification ahead of Florida’s legislative session as part of a more extensive criminal justice legislative package, which the governor described as a response to “soft on crime” policies in states with Democratic governors.
“In my opinion, justice wasn’t done in that situation. DeSantis said of the Cruz case, “If you’re going to have capital, you have to apply it to the worst of the worst crimes, and it should be the vast majority” of jurors.
DeSantis has established himself as a fierce opponent of so-called “woke” policies on race, gender, and public health and a steadfast supporter of law-and-order policies to combat crime.
DeSantis has leaned into issues that resonate with the conservative voters who typically decide GOP primary contests.
He has also suggested looking for ways to apply the death penalty to those found guilty of sexually abusing children.
Republican legislative leaders in the GOP-controlled statehouse look open to eliminating the necessity for unanimous verdicts in capital cases and frequently follow the governor’s directives.
When Florida’s legislative session begins in March, it is anticipated that the bills, which Republicans in the House and Senate introduced, will be discussed.
For many years, Florida did not require unanimous approval of the death penalty, enabling a judge to carry it out as long as most of the jury agreed.
However, the U.S. and the Supreme Court invalidated the state law because it gave judges too much latitude.
When the state Supreme Court ruled that jury recommendations should be unanimous, the state Legislature approved a statute requiring a unanimous jury.
This was followed by the state Legislature passing a bill mandating a 10-2 jury recommendation.
A death recommendation does not need to be unanimous; the Florida Supreme Court declared three years later after DeSantis selected new conservative justices to the court.
Florida has maintained its unanimity requirement despite the lack of a strong desire to change it.