Saying that it did not give jurors a sufficient role in deciding whether defendants should be put to death, the U.S. Supreme Court this week struck down part of Florida’s death penalty system. In an 8-1 decision in Hurst v Florida the Court found Florida’s capital sentencing scheme violated the 6thAmendment, which guarantees the right to trial by jury.
Florida’s sentencing procedure only requires “an advisory sentence” from a jury, the jury is not required to specify the factual basis for its sentencing recommendation. The sentencing judge must give “great weight” to the jury’s recommendation, but only the judge ever provides written reasons why a case is eligible for a death sentence. “The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the opinion of the Court.
Florida currently has about 400 inmates on death row. It is not immediately clear how many inmates will be entitled to new sentencing hearings.