OAN Geraldyn Berry
UPDATED 4:16 PM – Friday, April 14, 2023
In response to the life sentence given to the shooter who murdered 17 people at a Parkland high school, the Florida Legislature approved a bill on Thursday that would soon remove the requirement for unanimous jury recommendations before judges can impose death sentences.
Both Republicans and Democrats have acknowledged that the reason they were debating the bill was due to Nikolas Cruz, the gunman who killed 17 people at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, and how he was not given the death penalty by a jury that was split 9-3. Instead, he was given an unalterable life sentence.
The bill was approved by the House of Representatives in a vote of 80 to 30. For ultimate approval, the bill now moves to Governor Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.). With a jury recommendation of at least 8-4 in favor of execution, it will sanction the capital penalty. DeSantis is reportedly in favor of the idea.
The bill’s sponsor Rep. Berny Jacques (R-Fla.) gave a statement.
“One of the most evil acts in our nation’s history occurred down in Parkland,” Jacques said. “Those Parkland families were left devastated … because in that situation no one doubted the guilt of this evil person.”
Democrats countered this because of the Cruz ruling, saying that the state should not make it simpler to inflict a punishment that cannot be overturned.
“We have this bill here today because of one case,” Rep. Daryl Campbell (D-Fla.) said. “More people will be sentenced to death whether they are innocent or guilty because the Legislature decided that human life can be ended by majority.”
Out of the 27 states that use the death penalty, only three allow for unanimous approval. A judge in Missouri and Indiana may make a decision when a jury is split, and Alabama permits a 10-2 ruling.
In Florida, two convicted murderers have been put to death so far this year, one of which took place on Wednesday. A second execution is slated for three weeks from now. Before approving the three death warrants this year, DeSantis, who is poised to run for president, hadn’t presided over an execution since 2019.
If no stays are granted, it will be the quickest time since 2014, when Republican former governor Rick Scott oversaw Florida’s first three executions, that three people have been put to death.
Florida did not require unanimous approval of the death penalty for many years. Previously, the state permitted a judge to impose the death penalty if the verdict was supported by the majority of the jury.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a state legislation in 2016 on the grounds that it gave judges too much latitude.
A statute requiring a 10-2 jury recommendation was passed by the state legislature.
However, the state Supreme Court ruled that such proposals should be unanimous, which led lawmakers to demand it in 2017.
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