US Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court declared Florida's death sentencing statutes null and void. According to Supreme Court justices, Florida's death penalty system does not provide jurors with enough decision making power to say whether the death penalty was appropriate in a given situation.

Eight of the justices ruled to strike down Florida's death penalty and one ruled to keep it. The decision will overturn the death sentence of Timothy Lee Hurst, who was found guilty of murdering his coworker in a 1998 incident that happened at a fast food restaurant in Pensacola, Florida. The Florida judge in that case ruled that Hurst should be executed after he was convicted by a jury.

According to court documents, Hurst bound and gagged his manager at a fried chicken restaurant where he was employed in Florida, and then stabbed him to death multiple times.

Death Sentences Do Not Have to Be Unanimous in Florida

Florida is the only state in America that doesn't require a unanimous jury vote for the consideration of the death penalty. Also, only Florida, Alabama, Montana and Delaware leave the final decision about death penalty sentencing to the presiding judge.

Four hundred death row inmates are incarcerated in Florida, awaiting their executions, making it the second largest death row in the nation.

An Expansion of Jury Trial Rights

This recent Supreme Court decision represents an expansion of the right to trial by jury with regard to murder suspects. Another major Supreme Court ruling in 2002 also expanded the rights of defendants by requiring juries to show factual findings in support of death sentences.

In the Florida matter, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the trial judge used her own fact-finding to inappropriately augment the punishment of Hurst, but the justices did not rule out the possibility of the death penalty in the case. They merely required other arguments to be made if the sentence is to be re-affirmed. Meanwhile, Justice Samuel Alito dissented.