Senators try, fail to require unanimous jury decision on death-penalty cases; House compromise intact
Some senators this morning unsuccessfully tried to undo a political compromise with the Florida House that's intended to fix the state's death penalty sentencing procedures, in light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision related to Florida's law.
Under the agreement, at least 10 of 12 jurors would have to agree to impose a death sentence, as opposed to having only a simple majority under today's law.
But several senators, led by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, urged the chamber to force the House's hand and stick to requiring a unanimous jury decision -- a policy the Senate Criminal Justice committee endorsed by a 5-0 vote earlier this session.
Clemens argued that the Senate shouldn't allow "one or two members" to negotiate with the House and bypass the committee process, where policies are supposed to be vetted.
"We don’t have to yield to the House in any way shape or form," agreed Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge. "If we don’t pass a bill, the death penalty goes away and I don’t think the House is going to let that happen, so why not send them the best product possible?"
Baker Republican Sen. Greg Evers -- who advocated for the compromise -- said: "The problem is there's two bodies in the Legislature."
"We knew that we had to do something. There had to be common ground," Evers said.
After lengthy debate, Clemens' amendment narrowly failed, first by an 18-22 vote. The vote was reconsidered a few minutes later, after Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said "some wrong buttons were inadvertently pushed.”
The amendment failed a second time by a 17-23 vote, with three Republican senators changing their votes.
Sen. Rene Garcia, of Miami, changed from "no" to "yes." Sens. Tom Lee,of Brandon, and David Simmons, of Altamonte Springs, changed from "yes" to "no."
The Senate will take up the House's bill on Thursday for a final vote.
Florida, in practice, doesn't currently have the death penalty because lawmakers have yet to fix the state's legal procedure for sentencing in those cases, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional.
In its narrow decision, the court ruled that juries, not judges, should be the ones to impose the death penalty. But lawmakers fear that by not requiring a super-majority or even a unanimous jury decision, the state leaves itself vulnerable to constitutional challenges.
Florida is the only state using capital punishment in which as few as seven of 12 jurors can recommend death.