State Senator Thad Altman has proposed changing Florida’s statute requiring that a jury recommendation of execution must be unanimous decision of all 12 jurors. Altman, a Republican, says it is “inconsistent and illogical” that the law requires a unanimous verdict at the guilt phase of a capital murder trial but not to recommend the death penalty thereafter.
Florida is currently the only state in which a trial court jury can recommend a death sentence by simple majority. Under the current procedure, a jury must first return a guilty verdict before the “penalty phase” of trial. After additional testimony and evidence is presented, the jury then considers sentencing and makes a recommendation to the court. Currently, the recommendation that a defendant be executed can be made by simple majority of the jury.
The final sentencing decision rests with the trial judge, who has already instructed the jury that its recommendation carries great weight. A judge may overrule a jury recommendation of death and sentence a criminal to life in prison. While possible, this scenario is very rare.
Altman introduced a version of the same bill earlier this year but it never got a hearing. The newest version has been sent to the judiciary committee.
Altman’s bill (currently known as Senate Bill 772) also requires that each factor used to justify a recommendation of death, sometimes known as aggravating factors or aggravators, must also be unanimous. Florida is the only state in which the findings of aggravating circumstances are allowed to be submitted by a simply majority of the jurors.
Some prosecutors object to Altman’s proposed change, claiming that the Florida statute works well. Altman’s allies, however, point out that Texas and Georgia, states that execute more inmates than Florida, require unanimous jury recommendation of execution.
Those who support Altman’s efforts point out that the state of Florida leads the United States in reversals of death sentences with 23.