Florida Supreme Court Clarifies Stance on Death Sentences

A death sentence is the ultimate penalty in Florida criminal cases. A recent ruling out of the Florida Supreme Court limits the circumstances under which a person can be sentenced to die as a result of a conviction. In June, the high court explained what that means for people given a death sentence prior to that ruling. The decision could have major implications for anyone facing sex crime or other charges.

wood gavelDefendant was sentenced to death after being convicted on charges of kidnapping, robbery, and first-degree murder in 2009. He was homeless and had been recently released from prison when he met the victim, according to the court. The victim invited Defendant to stay at his home until Defendant got back on his feet, the court said. Defendant was living at the home when he beat the victim to death, stole the man’s car and used his ATM card to withdraw $900.

Defendant was arrested after an unrelated encounter with a police officer and eventually admitted to beating the man. He had bruised knuckles and abrasions on his body. Defendant told the cops that he had been lying naked in bed with the victim and had given him a massage when the victim attempted to have anal sex with Defendant. When the victim continued those attempts, Defendant responded by beating him. Defendant said he used his fists and a wooden box and acknowledged that he used a telephone cord to tie the man up because he feared the victim would go to the police.

A jury recommended 7-5 that Defendant be sentenced to death. The trial judge adopted that recommendation, finding that there were sufficient aggravating factors to support a death sentence.  Defendant later appealed the sentence, after the Florida Supreme Court ruled in a separate case that the state’s system for death sentence determinations violated the Sixth Amendment. The high court in Hurst v. Florida ruled that a jury must unanimously find sufficient aggravating factors to support a death sentence before a judge can consider imposing that punishment.

“Because the jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of seven to five, [Defendant]’s death sentence violates Hurst,” the court explained.

The court said the error wasn’t a harmless one. Three of the aggravating factors—that Defendant was on supervised release for another crime, had a previous criminal record of violent felonies, and that he committed the murder as part of another felony—were clearly present in this case, according to the court. But the jury was still divided on the ultimate question of whether Defendant should be sentenced to death. As a result, the court scrapped the death sentence and sent the case back to the trial court for new penalty proceedings.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a sex crime in the state of Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced lawyer. St. Petersburg sex crime attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.

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