Home Diocese Supreme Court rules Florida’s death penalty system unconstitutional

Supreme Court rules Florida’s death penalty system unconstitutional

571
The U.S. flag flies in front of the Supreme Court in Washington in this file photo from May 18, 2015. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)
The U.S. flag flies in front of the Supreme Court in Washington in this file photo from May 18, 2015. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)
The U.S. flag flies in front of the Supreme Court in Washington in this file photo from May 18, 2015. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. Supreme Court Jan. 12 said the state of Florida’s death penalty system is unconstitutional because it allows judges, rather than juries, to determine whether a convicted criminal should get a death sentence. Michael B. Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops in Tallahassee, said the conference was “pleased this decision was issued so promptly” on what was the first day of Florida’s 2016 legislative session. “This should compel the Legislature to address the issue immediately,” he said in a statement emailed to Catholic News Service. Ruling 8-1 in Hurst v. Florida, the high court said that the state’s “capital sentencing scheme” violates the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Writing for the majority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the amendment, which guarantees the rights of criminal defendants, “requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death.” The case is named for Timothy Lee Hurst, convicted of the 1998 murder of his manager at a Pensacola, Florida, fast-food restaurant. In Florida, the jury plays an advisory role, deciding if the defendant is eligible for the death penalty, then a judge determines whether that sentence should be imposed.