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June 2, 2005

Florida Supreme Court allows capital jury override despite Ring

A helpful reader pointed me to an interesting death penalty decision, noted here by Abstract Appeal, in which the Florida Supreme Court holds that Ring does not preclude a trial judge under Florida's capital statutes from overriding a jury's recommendation of life imprisonment to sentence a defendant to death.  Though the decision in Marshall v. Crosby, No. 02-420 (Fla. May 26, 2005) (available here), indicates that the Florida Supreme Court has previously rejected a series of challenges based on Ring, I get the impression that this is the first case considered by the court in which the sentencing judge imposed a death sentence over a jury recommendation of life.

Though all aspects of Marshall are interesting, a particularly notable aspect of the majority's opinion is its reliance on the prior conviction exception as one of many alernative grounds for its holding.  And the dissent by Justice Anstead presents a particularly thorough and powerful set of arguments against the constitutionality of Florida's jury override procedure in the wake of Ring.  And since Justice Anstead's dissentin Marshall has the best rhetoric, I'll quote from that opinion:

Today, we approve a practice that has now been outlawed in the United States by this nation's highest court, the imposition of the death penalty by a single judge in the face of a jury finding that the circumstances of the case do not support a sentence of death and require a life sentence. Because this outcome essentially allows a trial judge to ignore a jury's actions and direct a verdict and judgment for death in favor of the State, it is patently offensive to our constitutional notions of due process and the right to a jury trial....

Clearly, Ring was a decision meant to increase the consistency and accuracy of identifying those cases where the death penalty is warranted by requiring the facts necessary to impose the death sentence to be found by the jury.  The Court's decision today flies directly in the face of the Sixth Amendment and the Supreme Court's decision in Ring. Rather than embrace the Sixth Amendment's protections and look for ways in which the role of the jury could be modified to bring Florida into line with the Supreme Court's prevailing constitutional law, the majority has effectively removed the jury from the death penalty equation. This is a sad day for constitutional law and justice in the State of Florida.

June 2, 2005 at 01:28 AM | Permalink


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i am inquiring on the possible outcome of a case that includes no priors, the chrages are as states, armed trafficing in heroin, possesion of herion possesion of canibis, unlawful use of a drivers liscense, bringing illegal contraband into a jail as an inmate, possesion of a firearm,i am just a civilian inquiring on the law. this persons bond was set at 1.5 million dollars but has since been revolked. please let me know what to expect from this case.

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