The Effect of Hurst v. Florida on Florida’s Death Row Population

By Lowry Law Firm | Posted on February 26, 2016

Earlier in January, the Supreme Court of the United States found Florida’s death penalty system unconstitutional because the ultimate power to make the decision to send an inmate to death row was found to be held by the judge presiding over the case, and not the jury. In a state that stands in second place to California for most inmates on death row, this decision has created uncertainty for the almost 400 inmates that currently sit on death row.

The facts of the case that sparked this decision concerned Timothy Hurst, who was convicted of murdering a co-worker, Cynthia Harrison, in 1998. In 2000 he was sentenced to death. The Supreme Court found that the subsequent proceedings after originally being sentenced to death were unconstitutional based on the Sixth Amendment.

After being sentenced to death, Hurst appealed and the case was remanded for a new penalty phase proceeding. During the second penalty phase proceeding, the jury, again, recommended the death penalty by a majority vote. Before being sentenced, the court held a separate hearing in which it looked at additional evidence presented by Hurst’s lawyers. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court ruled, after an independent review of the evidence, that Hurst should be sentenced to death.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari to Hurst’s case and the issue in front of the court was whether Florida’s death sentencing scheme was constitutional if a unanimous jury was not required for a capital case and juries were allowed to take an advisory role during sentencing. Here, the Supreme Court found that the because the judge, and not the jury, was responsible for making factual findings in order to impose a death penalty on a defendant, the Sixth Amendment was violated.

The Future of the Death Penalty

As a result of the Hurst ruling, there are many death row inmates that now remain in limbo. However, another upcoming execution may help shed light on how Florida will handle death row cases where defendants have already exhausted all appeals of their case at the state level. Looking forward, the next issue that the Hurst case created is whether the Supreme Court ruling should be applied retroactively to these death row cases. If these rulings do apply retroactively, the courts will have no choice but the grant relief to many inmates currently sitting on death row.

Contact Our Office for Immediate Assistance

Homicide is a serious crime that can be punished by life imprisonment or the death penalty. If you or someone you know has been charged with homicide, it is important to contact Mark S. Lowry, an experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal law attorney. For the best possible legal representation, contact his office today.