Fully Informed Jury Association

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Function of Juries | 10 Jan 2014

-Non-unanimous Judges Can Overturn Unanimous Jury Sentences in Florida


Jury BoxFlorida is another state where the judgment of a 12-member jury for life without parole instead of the death penalty can be ignored and replaced with death by a single judge. In this case, the lead shooter, convicted in 1978 with a jury recommending a death sentence, avoided execution until 2013. On the other hand, a party to that same crime who tried to talk the shooters out of killing anyone, refused to kill anyone himself, and refused to help cover up the killings had already been executed 26 years earlier AGAINST THE UNANIMOUS RECOMMENDATION OF HIS JURY for life without parole.

The criteria established by the Florida Supreme Court for a judge to overrule a jury and impose a death sentence against the jury’s recommendation, “the facts suggesting a sentence of death should be so clear and convincing that virtually no reasonable person could differ.” By overruling a UNANIMOUS decision by a 12-member jury, this judge effectively decided that 12 semi-randomly selected members of the community were ALL UNREASONABLE, and the Florida Supreme Court backed him up.

On appeal, the defendant’s case was heard by another judge. During the post-conviction legal process, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Enmund v. Florida that the death penalty was not appropriate for someone who neither killed nor attempted or intended to kill anyone. Based on this, the second judge vacated the death sentence in this case. It progressed again to the Florida Supreme Court where on a 7-2 split vote, the death penalty was reinstated against the 12-0 unanimous recommendation of the jury in the original case.

Executed Against the Judgment of 12 Jurors

Not surprisingly, the Court found no prohibition. Stating that White had done nothing to “disassociate himself” from the murders, the Florida Supreme Court reimposed the death penalty on him. Not all seven justices agreed—two of them thought that the Enmund case required a life sentence for White, and one came right out and said that the Florida Supreme Court had no business sentencing anyone to death, which was what it was doing by overruling Judge Klein. But two negative votes did not change the outcome for Beauford White. On a Florida jury, even a unanimous recommendation was not the final word about life or death. But a simple majority was more than enough for the Supreme Court of Florida.