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Florida: death sentence unconstitutional without unanimous jury vote

[JURIST] The Florida Supreme Court [official website] on Friday held [opinion, PDF] that a trial court may not impose the death penalty unless the jury's recommended sentence of death is unanimous. This ruling comes after remand to the high court in Florida from the US Supreme Court [official website], which held [JURIST report] in January that Timothy Lee Hurst's death penalty was unconstitutional because it "failed to require the jury, rather than the judge, to find the facts necessary to impose the death sentence." The Supreme Court left open the question as to whether the other constitutional error of a non-unanimous verdict from the jury with regard to Hurst's death sentence was "harmless beyond a reasonable doubt." Florida's high court took up this question and ruled that: "based on Florida's requirement for unanimity in jury verdicts, and under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, that in order for the trial court to impose a sentence of death, the jury's recommended sentence of death must be unanimous." This ruling is likely to impact hundreds of other cases [NPR report] in the state.

Capital punishment [JURIST op-ed] remains a controversial issue in the US and worldwide. On Wednesday the US Supreme Court vacated [JURIST report] the death sentence of an Oklahoma man convicted of killing his girlfriend and her two children in a case where the trial judge permitted family members to recommend the sentence to the jury. Last week a group of UN human rights experts spoke on the subject of the death penalty and terrorism, calling the death penalty ineffective [JURIST report], and often times illegal, in deterring to terrorism. Last month four UN human rights experts and Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called on Pakistan to halt the execution of Imdad Ali [JURIST reports], a mentally disabled man that was convicted of murder in 2001. The experts called Imdad Ali's execution "unlawful and tantamount to an arbitrary execution, as well as a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment," and called for it to be annulled. Also last month in Oklahoma, after a botched execution in 2014 and numerous drug mix-ups in 2015, Attorney General Scott Pruitt [official website] refused [JURIST report] to set execution dates until new protocols have been approved. In May the Supreme Court upheld a stay [JURIST report] of execution for Alabama inmate Vernon Madison. A few days before that a Miami judge ruled [JURIST report] that Florida's revamped death penalty law is unconstitutional because it does not require a unanimous agreement among jurors to approve executions. In April Virginia's General Assembly voted [JURIST report] to keep secret the identities of suppliers of lethal injection drugs.

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