FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 20, 2023
Contact: Maria DeLiberato
(717) 503-2730 (text messages only)
TALLAHASSEE, Florida – This morning, Governor DeSantis signed the non-unanimity death penalty sentencing bill into law, paving the way for Florida to become the most extreme death penalty state in the country. SB 450 eliminates the requirement that a jury unanimously decide to sentence someone to death. The legislation allows a jury, by a vote of 8-4, to recommend a death sentence. This law goes into immediate effect.
“If one of the primary justifications for the death penalty is to provide solace and finality to victims, instituting this new unconstitutional statute almost certainly does the opposite,” said Maria DeLiberato, Director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (FADP). “This change is a return to Florida’s prior scheme – which the United States Supreme Court has already found unconstitutional – and which required nearly 100 new penalty phase trials. Many of those are still pending. This new law will be immediately challenged, and there will be extensive litigation, plunging the system – and victims’ families in particular – into decades of uncertainty and chaos.”
Further, allowing non-unanimous juries further exacerbates the racial disparity in the death penalty. In a 2020 case called Ramos v. Louisiana, United States Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch explained the origins of non-unanimous sentencing: “Louisiana first endorsed non-unanimous verdicts for serious crimes at a constitutional convention in 1898. According to one committee chairman, the avowed purpose of that convention was to ‘establish the supremacy of the white race.’”
Agustin Quiles is the founder of Mission Talk and serves on FADP’s Board of Directors. As he explained, “Taking Florida backwards in this way silences Black and Brown voices on the jury, and further minimizes and marginalizes their participation in our criminal justice system.”
Finally, non-unanimity increases the risk of wrongful convictions. As DeLiberato explained, “Florida already leads the nation in death row exonerations, and nearly all of them were a result of non-unanimous sentences. With this law, there will undoubtedly be more.”
Herman Lindsey, Florida’s 23rd death row exoneree and FADP’s Board Vice Chair, is just one of those examples. He was sentenced to death by an 8-4 vote for a crime he did not commit.
“My jury got it wrong then, and allowing non-unanimity in the penalty phase diminished the jury’s responsibility and deliberative process,” Lindsey said. “We need to find a way to fix our system, not continue to break it.”
This reactive change is an attempt to appear “tough on crime.” Yet, in reality, expanding the death penalty by eliminating the jury unanimity requirement does not do anything to protect the people of the State of Florida. Instead, it leads to system instability and uncertainty for victims, evidences a blatant disregard for established precedent and our nation’s founding principles of checks and balances, and threatens our entire system of government.
FADP is a Florida-based, state-wide organization of individuals and groups working together to end the death penalty in Florida. Our network includes dozens of state and local groups and thousands of individual Floridians, including murder victims’ family members and other survivors of violent crime, law enforcement professionals, families of the incarcerated, and death row exonerations.