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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Supreme Court: There's no death penalty in Florida right now

An unidentified "death row" inmate in "Q" wing of Florida State Prison, at Starke.

Associated Press (File)

An unidentified "death row" inmate in "Q" wing of Florida State Prison, at Starke.



UPDATE: At 1 p.m., the Florida Supreme Court vacated its earlier ruling, writing that it was issued "prematurely." Read more here.

EARLIER STORY: The state Supreme Court made clear Wednesday that there is no law on the books in Florida allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty in murder cases.

In a 5-2 ruling, the court rejected a request by Attorney General Pam Bondi to clarify an October decision that said juries must make a unanimous vote to sentence someone to death. It threw out a law passed last spring that required a 10-2 supermajority by the jury.

"The act’s 10-2 recommendation requirement renders the act unconstitutional," the justices in the majority wrote. "Thus, the act 'cannot be applied to pending prosecutions.' "

In a statement, a Bondi spokesman said her office is "reviewing" the order.

Now, it will be up to the Legislature to pass a new death penalty law calling for a unanimous jury vote. It's a priority, state Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, a former prosecutor who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, told the Times/Herald last month.

"We have to act," Sprowls said. "By the time we conclude our business, we have to have a death penalty statute that can be relied upon and that's legal, so that victims have access to justice."

Two justices, Ricky Polston and Charles Canady, dissented, saying that the court ought to issue a clarification on its ruling to end "confusion and paralysis across the state regarding the death penalty and capital trials" and that they did not believe the state's death penalty statute was unconstitutional.

Bondi said in October after the court ruled the death penalty laws unconstitutional that she believed courts could move forward with capital cases under a higher, unanimous jury standard. In one case, she said, a Marion County judge "erred" by putting sentencing on hold in a double-murder case.

"That's why we are asking the Supreme Court to clarify," Bondi said in October. "To state the obvious: that the death penalty must be unanimous."

[Last modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2017 1:39pm]


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