March 01, 2015

Florida Death Penalty

ABA President William C. Hubbard conveyed the ABA’s support this month for death penalty legislation pending in the Florida Senate and House of Representatives that would bring Florida’s death penalty laws into compliance with several ABA standards and policy. The legislation, S 664 and H 139, would require a Florida jury’s advisory sentence of death to be based on a unanimous vote supporting death and require the trial court to instruct the jury that each aggravating circumstance used to support the jury’s recommendation of death must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt as found by a unanimous vote.  In a March 9 letter to the chairs of the Florida Senate and House Committees on Criminal Justice and their criminal justice subcommittees, Hubbard emphasized that while the ABA takes no position on capital punishment generally, the association has extensively studied the operation of the death penalty in the U.S. criminal justice system and taken the position that governments should take great care to ensure that death penalty cases are administered fairly and impartially, in accordance with due process, and minimize the risk that innocent people may be executed. He pointed that the association’s position on jury verdict unanimity is reflected in the ABA sets of standards relating to trial courts, criminal justice standards, and jury principles. In addition, he said the legislation is in line with the association’s most recent policy adopted in February that is designed to complement the ABA’s other extensive policies and principles reflecting its longstanding and strong support of jury verdict unanimity in all cases, not just in death penalty trials. Hubbard also noted that an ABA assessment team − made up of law and psychology professors, former judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers − completed a study of Florida’s capital punishment system in 2006 and recommended changing the state’s law allowing for non-unanimous jury recommendations that death be imposed.

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