Court Overturns Death Sentence Based on US Supreme Court’s Finding that Florida’s Prior Capital Penalty Laws Were Unconstitutional

The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that Florida’s capital sentencing scheme was unconstitutional, in Hurst v. Florida. The Hurst ruling continues to have lasting effects in Clearwater and throughout the state, as many death sentences imposed prior to Hurst may be unconstitutional.

For example, the Supreme Court of Florida recently held that the Hurst ruling required resentencing in a case where the death penalty was imposed absent a unanimous jury recommendation.  If you live in Clearwater and are charged with a crime, it is in your best interest retain an experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney to help you retain your rights.

Facts Surrounding the Defendant’s Arrest and Trial

Reportedly, the defendant was stopped by a police officer while driving a vehicle, when he attempted to flee. The officer followed the defendant and eventually caught up with him. The defendant stopped his vehicle, after which the officer stopped his vehicle. The defendant then exited his vehicle with a handgun and fired three shots into the officer’s vehicle. The shots hit the officer and he died from his injuries. The defendant then returned to his vehicle and fled. He was ultimately arrested without incident by other officers. The defendant was charged with and convicted by a jury of first degree murder. During the penalty phase of the trial, nine out of twelve jurors recommended death. The Florida statute in effect at that time permitted a judge to impose a death sentence if seven jurors recommended death. The judge released the jurors following the penalty recommendation.

Changes in Florida Law Allowing for a Death Sentence

Allegedly, three days prior to the scheduled sentencing, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling inHurst v. Florida, that stated that Florida’s sentencing scheme was unconstitutional. The defendant’s sentencing hearing was then postponed. The Florida statute allowing for the imposition of the death penalty was then revised to require a recommendation of ten jurors before a judge could impose a death sentence. The court subsequently imposed a death sentence despite the defendant’s objection that the sentence was invalid under the new law. The defendant appealed.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the new statute regarding the death penalty should apply in his case and entitled him to a life sentence without parole under double jeopardy principles. The court rejected this argument. The court explained that because the jury gave its recommendation prior to the passage of the statute and the recommendation supported the imposition of the death penalty when the jury was sworn and jeopardy attached, a new penalty phase was not barred by double jeopardy. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that he was entitled to life without parole under another sentencing statute. The court noted, however, that the Hurst ruling stated that a jury, not a judge, must impose a death sentence and a mere recommendation is insufficient to impose such a sentence.  Following Hurst, the Supreme Court of Florida held that a jury recommendation for death must be unanimous before a court can impose a death sentence. As such, the court vacated the defendant’s death sentence and remanded the case for a new penalty phase.

Retain an Experienced Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are a Clearwater resident facing criminal charges, you should consult a seasoned criminal defense attorney to discuss the potential penalties for the crimes you are charged with and the best course of action under the facts of your case.  William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is Clearwater criminal defense attorney with the knowledge and experience necessary to help you pursue a favorable outcome under the facts of your case. You can contact him at 727-897-5413 or through the online form to set up a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Florida Court of Appeals Affirms Eyewitness Testimony is Sufficient Evidence to Support a Conviction for a Crime, November 26, 2018, Clearwater and St. Petersburg Criminal Lawyer Blog

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