There is a push from Governor Ron DeSantis to reconsider capital punishment in Florida and what it would take to sentence someone to death.
DeSantis is upset that the Parkland shooter, Nicholas Cruz, got life in prison instead of death for the murders of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.
A death required a unanimous decision, but only nine of the twelve jurors voted for it in that case.
The governor wants lawmakers to change the law. They passed the requirement for a unanimous jury vote for the death penalty in 2016. Now, the legislature has DeSantis’ blessing to change it again in 2023.
“I think it was really based on one person’s more idiosyncratic views,” said DeSantis at a Florida Sheriff’s Association speech on Monday.
He raised the idea of changing the law.
Criminal defense attorney Lance Dunford explained what must happen in Florida to put someone to death under the current law. “It is required that we have a unanimous jury decide that the prosecution proved at least one aggravating factor in order to actually put somebody to death.”
The governor, who disagreed with the Cruz jury’s decision at the time, said he’d support a supermajority of jurors to vote for the death penalty. “Maybe eight out of 12 have to agree or something. But we can’t be in a situation where one person can just derail this,” DeSantis said
If the thresholds were lowered, what would be the expected outcome?
“You will greatly increase the risk that innocent people will be sentenced to death and will be executed,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Dunham called the DeSantis proposition a guarantee innocent people would die.
Political scientist Aubrey Jewett said that’s a popular thought among Democrats who oppose the death penalty too.
At least 30 people have been released from death row for wrongful convictions. The governor, and many Florida Republicans, support the death penalty and may now support changing the requirement the jury be unanimous.
“There’s usually been a partisan split here for sure. It wouldn’t surprise me if our Republican-dominated legislature takes action on this,” said Jewitt.
If lawmakers do that, Florida would join Alabama as the only states that do not require all jurors to agree on the death penalty before it can be imposed.