Supreme Court Stops Florida Death Penalty

The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 12 said the state of Florida’s death penalty system is unconstitutional because it allows judges, rather than juries, to determine whether a convicted criminal should be given a death sentence. Michael B. Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops in Tallahassee, said the conference was “pleased this decision was issued so promptly” on the first day of Florida’s 2016 legislative session. “This should compel the legislature to address the issue immediately,” he said in a statement. Ruling 8 to 1 in Hurst v. Florida, the high court said that the state’s “capital sentencing scheme” violates the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Writing for the majority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the amendment, which guarantees the rights of criminal defendants, “requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death.” In Florida, the jury plays an advisory role, deciding if the defendant is eligible for the death penalty.

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