[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in Hurst v. Florida [docket; cert. petition, PDF ] to determine “whether Florida’s death sentencing scheme violated the Sixth … or Eighth Amendment.” This court granted certiorari in light of its decision in Ring v. Arizona [opinion], in which it held that a sentencing judge, sitting without a jury, may not “find an aggravating circumstance necessary for imposition of the death penalty.” In the case at hand, Timothy Hurst was convicted and sentenced to death in 1998 for one count of first degree murder. It was found that the murder was “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel,” and thus justified the sentence. Although it was found that Hurst suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and thus was of “limited intellectual capacity,” the court did not consider this as mitigation, and thus did not assign it any weight.
Use of the death penalty [JURIST news archive] has been a controversial issue throughout the US and internationally. Last month US Attorney General Eric Holder voiced his support [JURIST report] for a moratorium on the death penalty pending a decision by the Supreme Court in Glossip v. Gross [SCOTUSblog backgrounder]. The court granted certiorari [order, PDF] in late January to determine the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s three-drug execution protocol. Also in February the Utah House of Representatives narrowly approved House Bill 11 [JURIST report], which would allow for executions by firing squad. The goal of HB 11 is to provide an alternative execution method to lethal injection, as supplies of the traditional drugs have become scarce. In January a man with an IQ of 67 was executed [JURIST report] in Texas after the Supreme Court denied two pleas for delay that same day. Earlier in January an Indiana senator proposed a bill [JURIST report] to end the death penalty in the state, and the Washington state legislature proposed bills [JURIST reports] to eliminate the death penalty.