FORT MYERS, Fla. — A bombshell ruling by the Florida Supreme Court could drastically alter death penalty cases in the state.
Recently, the court ruled a unanimous jury decision is not required in order to sentence someone to death.
In 2016, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the state’s death penalty law was unconstitutional since it did not require a unanimous decision from the jury to recommend a convicted murderer be sentenced to death.
But last Thursday, justices said they ‘got it wrong.'
“What they have done is overturn their previous decision and that doesn’t come lightly with the supreme court because they actually make law through their decisions,” said Pamella Seay, legal expert and FGCU professor.
“In a guilty phase, there are two parts. Number one, the jury has to find that there are aggravating circumstances or mitigating circumstances and they have to find that unanimously.”
The court now reversing course on the second part of the law.
“The second part of that is that they needed to recommend either life or death and that too needed to be unanimously,” said Seay.
Since the court’s 2016 ruling, dozens of death row inmates who were sentenced to death on non-unanimous jury decisions have been granted new sentencing hearings.
“What that does is it puts a lot of people in a quandary because all of a sudden they thought they had a reprieve and they were acting based on that and yet the court is turning it on its head again and they are back on death row,” said Seay.
For now, a unanimous recommendation is still needed to sentence someone to death under current Florida law.
“In order for that to change there has to be a bill introduced into the legislature and it would have to be reviewed through the judiciary committees and both the house and the senate,” said Seay.
Until the law changes defendants charged with capital murder, like Wisner Desmaret who’s accused of killing a Fort Myers Police Officer, would still need to have a unanimous recommendation to be sentenced to the death penalty.
"Leaving it the way it is with a unanimous requirement for both parts of the sentencing, we are in line with most other states," said Seay.