Florida

DeSantis calls for ending jury unanimity in Florida death penalty cases Ron DeSantis

Florida’s right-wing Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to end his state’s constitutional requirement for juries to be unanimous in death sentences.

“Well, you have a supermajority,” DeSantis told the Florida Sheriffs Association Monday. “But you can’t just say a person votes no.”

“Maybe eight out of 12 or something,” he added.

Florida has required jury unanimity in deaths since 2017, a change made after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state system unconstitutional, requiring a simple majority of the jury to recommend death and a judge then to decide whether to impose it shall be.

Inmates sentenced to death in Florida can choose between electrocution and lethal injection. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 30 death row prisoners have been exonerated in Florida — more than any other U.S. state.

DeSantis won re-election last year in a landslide victory. As the leading face of the national hard-line Republican right, he has not announced a candidacy for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination, but remains the only serious challenger to Donald Trump, the only confirmed candidate, in polls on the race.

Trump is also an avid supporter of state killings, as his administration has completed 13 federal executions by the end of his tenure in the White House.

On Monday, DeSantis focused his anger on the recent trial of Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Fla., in February 2018 but was spared the death penalty after three jurors ruled against it.

DeSantis said, “If you never issue the sentence, you just can’t be on the jury. Our law allows it. But you’re in a situation where you have 12 jurors and only one juror vetoes, then you end up with no verdict.”

Referring to Parkland, DeSantis incorrectly said, “And I think you had an 11-1 decision where the 11 said he should get the death penalty. One said no. And we don’t know what was in it. But I think there are people who come on these juries who never intend to hand down the death penalty.”

Cruz was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

DeSantis said, “There were court decisions, all these other things. The bottom line is that this can probably be changed by law.”

In 2016, the US Supreme Court, which said Florida’s death penalty law violated the Sixth Amendment, consisted of five conservatives and four liberals. It matched 8-1 against Florida, only for Samuel Alito to disagree.

Alito is now one of six conservatives on a hard-line court that has shown a clear tendency to rule in favor of death penalty advocates.

Bernard Harcourt, a law professor at Columbia University, recently told the Guardian: “It’s incredible what has become of the court. It’s almost as if the conservative judges have become the executioners of the nation.”

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