Florida prosecutors begin dealing with unanimous jury requirement for death sentences
For decades Florida has had a death penalty system that allows prosecutors secure a death sentence with a simple majority, seven of 12 jurors, in favor.
No longer. In the past 18 months the U.S. Supreme Court has thrown out the state’s death penalty procedures and the Florida Supreme Court has ruledthat no one can be put on Death Row without the jury unanimously agreeing on at least one aggravating factor that justifies death. Last month the U.S. Supreme Court ended the entire situation when it refused to consider an appeal of the Florida Supreme Court decision.
An indication of how that will change the death penalty in Florida was on display last month in a Bradenton courtroom when jurors recommended the death penalty by a 7–5 vote for Andres “Andy” Avalos Jr, who was convicted of the first-degree murders of Denise Potter and James “Tripp” Battle III and the second-degree murder of his wife, Amber Avalos.
Two years ago that vote would have been enough to put Avalos on Death Row. Now, the death penalty is off the table. He will get sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
12th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Ed Brodsky, who prosecuted Avalos, saidseeking death was much harder now.
Florida has one of the largest death rows in America, but it has been shrinking this year as the Florida Supreme Court has thrown out the death sentences of 16 people because their death sentences were not unanimous. The total number of people on Death Row has dropped from just under 400 to 363, as of June 19.
Florida’s 20 elected prosecutors will have to decide whether to seek death again in cases where they couldn’t get unanimous jury support the first time. But prosecutors have only themselves to blame, they fought efforts to amend this law for years, even after the Florida Supreme Court encouraged the State Legislature to change the law to require juror unanimity in sentencing someone to death.
“The Florida Supreme Court’s ruling that jury recommendations for the death penalty must be unanimous is a long overdue recognition of the state’s fatally flawed capital punishment regime,” said Professor Mary Anne Franks of the University of Miami School of Law. “The prosecutors who relentlessly pursued death sentences despite being repeatedly placed on notice that the state’s death penalty regime was constitutionally defective should be held accountable for the emotional and financial costs they have imposed on victims’ families and on taxpayers.”
About 75 percent of the people on Death Row in Florida were put there with at least one juror dissenting.
Alabama is now the only state in the country that allows someone to be sentenced to death without the unanimous consent of a jury.