Florida lawmakers looking for leniency in capital punishment cases

By: Mike Vasilinda | Capitol News Service
February 12, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Florida lawmakers usually criticize judges for being too lenient, but when it comes to hundreds of death cases, a legislative committee thinks the state's Supreme Court Justices are being too harsh.

Just over a year ago, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that about half of the people on death row were entitled to be re-sentenced, but the other half - sentenced before 2002 - were stuck with the sentence they received.

2002 is the cut off, because that's when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled juries must be unanimous in sentencing death.

"These legal distinctions are, while excepted and appropriate, are from a fundamental fairness perspective, spurious," said Mark Schlakman Human Rights Attorney.

In 2001, Jacksonville killer David Miller was sent to death row by a vote of 7 to 5. His case is one of 80 opinions released over the past few weeks, telling inmates convicted before that 2002 date that it doesn't matter if their sentence was less than unanimous.

"I think that date of 2002 is arbitrary," said Senator Ronald Bracy (D-Orlando). "And I don't think it's fair."

The court's majority, said in part, litigation must, at some point, come to an end.

Two of the seven justices think the cutoff date isn't fair, and have repeatedly said so in dissenting opinions.

Now, a State Senate Committee is telling the court the same thing.

"A should equal A when it comes to justice," said Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg). "Setting an arbitrary date doesn’t equal justice. I think we need to go back in time and say all of these cases that are similarly situated should be treated the same.”

Even if the measure doesn't go anywhere else this year, the fact a legislative committee sought to intervene is a message to the courts that lawmakers are watching.

If the admonition passes the Senate, it will likely die in the house, which has always wanted a 10-2 jury verdict.

The fact a legislative committee sought to intervene is a message to the court that lawmakers are watching.

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