Florida should stick to allowing juries to recommend executions by a
simple majority, not a unanimous vote, Attorney General Charlie Crist
said Tuesday, urging legislators to reject the Florida Supreme Court's
call to tweak the state's capital punishment laws in favor of unanimous
The stance puts the state's chief legal officer at odds with the
state's highest court and in particular with Justice Raoul Cantero, who
urged lawmakers three weeks ago to change to a unanimous jury or risk
seeing the state's death penalty law declared unconstitutional because
it differs from laws in other states.
But Crist, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor and
as a state senator was dubbed ''Chain Gang'' Charlie for courting a
tough-on-crime image, said such a fix would mean serial killers like
Ted Bundy -- executed in 1989 -- and Aileen Wuornos -- executed in 2002
-- would now be sitting in prison.
The juries for both repeat killers recommended death by 10-2 votes.
''For my part, I believe the current system is not only
constitutional but appropriate to punish those who murder as well as
deter potential future murderers,'' Crist said in a letter to the
Legislature's presiding officers, House Speaker Allan Bense and Senate
President Tom Lee.
Crist's office handles death penalty appeals at the Supreme Court
and he suggested in the letter that requiring a unanimous vote would
weaken the state's death penalty. Under Florida law, juries have to be
unanimous for conviction of any crime. But in capital cases jurors
recommend either a life sentence or the death penalty on a majority
Miami Republican Sen. Alex Villalobos, a death penalty supporter who
already has instructed staff to draft a proposed change in the law,
said Tuesday that Crist's input doesn't change his mind.
''What [a unanimous vote] ensures is more certainty than we have
now,'' said Villalobos, who is supporting Crist's candidacy for
In an opinion on a death case, Cantero noted that Florida's
sentencing laws are unique when compared to the 38 other death-penalty
states, suggesting lawmakers should line up with their peers or risk
having a court strike it down.
''The bottom line is that Florida is now the only state in the
country that allows the death penalty to be imposed'' by simple
majority vote, Cantero wrote. ``Assuming that our system continues to
withstand constitutional scrutiny, we ask the Legislature to revisit it
to decide whether it wants Florida to remain the outlier state.''
But Crist noted that juries in Florida only recommend the penalty -- judges do the actual sentencing.
''Unlike Florida, many states and federal courts empower juries to determine life or death,'' Crist said.