Today the Florida Supreme Court resoundingly embraced the importance of the judgment of a jury under the Sixth Amendment in determining beyond a reasonable doubt whether a defendant is eligible for the death penalty in Florida. This determination must be based on deliberations in which twelve citizens of the state are instructed to consider the most serious penalty the state metes out. The Hurst Court makes clear that no matter how horrific the facts of an offense, those twelve jurors have both the right and the responsibility to determine, unanimously, if the aggravated facts outweigh any mitigating circumstances. Only then can they recommend a death sentence. Importantly, their consideration of death eligibility is not a numbers game. The jury could find that only one mitigating circumstance, such as mental illness, is strong enough to outweigh thirty aggravating factors, and the Court has firmly protected their right to do so today. The Court was also careful to make clear that even when a jury finds that a defendant to be death-eligible, each juror still retains the right under the Eight Amendment to recommend life based on his or her own moral assessment of mercy, as checked by society’s evolving standards of decency.
I know of no one on death row in Florida who was sentenced by a jury that was informed of these two indispensable rights and duties before recommending a death sentence, and no judge should try to guess now as to how any jurors, collectively or individually, would have decided a given case had they been so instructed. I think it is safe to say that everyone, or virtually everyone, on death row now has a legitimate basis for requesting a new sentencing hearing.
Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers – FACDL Statement on Hurst / Perry decisions. Sonya Rudenstine, Co-Chair, Amicus Curiae Committee