Today, the Florida Supreme Court invalidated approximately 150 unconstitutional death sentences. In a decision earlier this year the same court held that Florida’s capital sentencing statute is unconstitutional because it does not require a unanimous jury decision on every question necessary to impose a death sentence. The basis of that decision dated back to a case called Ring v. Arizona, which was decided in 2002.

In today’s opinion, the Court reasoned: “Defendants who were sentenced to death under Florida’s former unconstitutional capital sentencing scheme after Ring should not suffer due to the United States Supreme Court’s fourteen-year delay in applying Ring to Florida. In other words, defendants who were sentenced to death based on a statute that was actually rendered unconstitutional by Ring should not be penalized for the United States Supreme Court’s delay in explicitly making this determination. Considerations of fairness and uniformity make it very ‘difficult to justify depriving a person of his liberty or his life, under process no longer considered acceptable and no longer applied to indistinguishable cases.’ Witt, 387 So. 2d at 925.”

Here is a link to the opinion:

http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2016/sc14-436.pdf

In reaction to these decisions, Harvard Law Professor Ron Sullivan, co-founder of the Fair Punishment Project, said:

“If you are wondering who is responsible for Florida’s broken death penalty, today’s decision illustrates why prosecutors deserve so much of the blame. For decades, Florida’s prosecutors whistled past the graveyard, assuring the legislature, the courts, and their constituents that nothing was wrong with non-unanimous jury verdicts, even though the state remained a national outlier and even as the U.S. Supreme Court cast doubt on the statute’s validity.”

Robert Smith, Director of the Fair Punishment Project, said:

“The upshot is that between 150 and 200 people will need to be re-sentenced, opening old wounds and costing taxpayers millions of dollars. You can thank Florida’s prosecutors for this situation. As the recent ouster of Jeff Ashton, Angela Corey and Mark Ober illustrate, sometimes the voters believe that prudence and reason are more important attributes in an elected prosecutor than bluster and bravado.”

Kenneth Nunn, Professor of Law, University of Florida Levin College of Law, said:

“For over a decade, Florida prosecutors have known that non-unanimous jury verdicts were likely to be found unconstitutional and yet they failed to urge corrective action from the legislature knowing all the while that victims’ families and the taxpayers would pay the price for their careless decision. Today, the Florida Supreme Court reaffirmed the unconstitutionality of the statute, and once again illustrated the recklessness of prosecutor’s actions.”