As Alabama goes, so goes Florida in reaching death penalty fix
A necessary political compromise to repair Florida's broken death penalty sentencing system and resume executions has been reached, and the magic number is 10.
If this likely compromise is reached by both houses of the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, all future death penalty cases in Florida will require at least 10 of 12 jurors to agree on a punishment of death for a defendant. If a jury has three holdouts, a defendant would get life in prison without parole.
Among the 32 states that still use capital punishment, Alabama is the only other state with a 10-to-2 system. Florida allows a simple majority of seven jurors to recommend death, but executions are on hold because the U.S. Supreme court has ruled the sentencing system unconstitutional.
The 10-juror provision is in an amendment to the death penalty bill (HB 7101) awaiting full House debate Wednesday. The amendment sponsor, Rep. Charles McBurney, is a Jacksonville Republican and former state prosecutor, a sign that state attorneys are ready to accept the compromise.
McBurney said he negotiated the result with a fellow ex-prosecutor, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island.
Prosecutors have lobbied for weeks for 9-3 jury recommendations in death cases, and a clear majority of senators favor a requirement for unanimity, a position backed by public defenders statewide and legal experts who are closely following the legislation.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 12 struck down Florida's death penalty sentencing system because it gives juries too little weight. The court did not directly address the issue of jury unanimity, but that's part of the political debate because more lawsuits from death row inmates are likely if the Legislature doesn't address it.