Juries would need just a supermajority vote to recommend the death penalty under proposed legislation backed in the Florida Senate by Sen. Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill). Currently, Florida law requires that jurors unanimously vote in death penalty cases.
SB450 eliminates the single vote of so-called “protect jurors” who can prevent juries in Florida from recommending the death penalty in appropriate cases. The legislation stems in part from the case involving Nikolas Cruz, who was convicted of carrying out the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A total of 17 people were killed in the incident, and another 17 were injured.
In October 2022, the jury seated in the case agreed that Cruz was eligible for the death penalty but was deadlocked in recommending the penalty. Instead, in November, Cruz was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
“It is unconscionable that ‘protest jurors’ can deny justice to the families of victims of heinous crimes in our current system of unanimity,” Ingoglia said while unveiling the proposed legislation. “This is much-needed reform.”
A twin bill, HB555, was introduced in the Florida House of Representatives by Rep. Berny Jacques (R-Seminole).
The prospective legislation was backed by the officers of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys’ Association.
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty oppose the proposed legislation on grounds that it also provides that Judges may override juries’ recommendations in appropriate cases.
“This new legislation would usurp the jury’s constitutional role and allow a judge to be the sole determiner of sentencing, “ the group said in a Facebook posting.