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Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 06 Jan 2015

-Bill Seeks Unanimous Jury In Death Cases

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Florida is one of a few states where the judgment of a 12-member jury in a capital case to impose a sentence of life without parole instead of the death penalty can be ignored and replaced with death by a single judge. A bill has been introduced in the Florida legislature this year that could potentially affect how the death penalty is imposed.

Bill Seeks Unanimous Juries In Death Cases

The bill (HB 139), proposed by Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, will be considered during the 2015 legislative session. Under current law, a majority of a jury can recommend that a defendant receive the death penalty, with a judge ultimately deciding whether to impose the sentence.

Rodriguez’s bill would create a higher standard, with juries needing to be unanimous in such recommendations. The bill also would give direction to judges on some jury instructions in death-penalty cases.

The potential implications of this legislation are not clear to me. This legislation seems like it could be somewhat protective of a single juror’s ability to utilize jury nullification in the sentencing phase of a capital case to recommend life without parole instead of death. However, while a jury would be required to be unanimous in its recommendation, I don’t see anything that would bind a judge to impose a sentence no harsher than that recommended by the jury. From my reading, it seems possible that even if a jury unanimously recommended life without parole, a judge might still be able to overrule that recommendation. I will be keeping an eye on this bill as it progresses through the legislative process.

Related articles:
Tallahassee Paper Supports Unanimous Jury Verdicts for Death Sentences
Non-unanimous Judges Can Overturn Unanimous Jury Sentences in Florida
Alabama Judges Can Override Juries to Impose Death Sentences

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