Florida’s capital sentencing scheme violates the Sixth Amendment

Supreme Court of United States- Holding the Florida’s capital sentencing scheme as unconstitutional, the Court with the ratio of 8:1 held that the process used to condemn the petitioner, a death row inmate was unconstitutional because a judge rather than a jury was the final arbiter of fact in sentencing, opening the door to further challenges in death penalty cases in Florida and elsewhere.

In the instant case, a Florida jury convicted the petitioner of first-degree murder for killing a co-worker and recommended the death penalty. The court sentenced the petitioner to death, but he was granted a new sentencing hearing on appeal. At re-sentencing, the jury again recommended death, and the judge again found the facts necessary to sentence the petitioner to death. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting the petitioner’s argument that his sentence violated the Sixth Amendment in light of Ring v. Arizona, 536 U. S. 584, in which this Court found unconstitutional an Arizona capital sentencing scheme that permitted a judge rather than the jury to find the facts necessary to sentence a defendant to death.

After perusal of the contentions the Court observed that as the Sixth Amendment protects a defendant’s right to an impartial jury, this right required Florida to base petitioner’s death sentence on a jury’s verdict, not a judge’s fact finding. The Court further observed that Florida’s sentencing scheme, which is a “hybrid” proceeding “in which a jury renders an advisory verdict but the judge makes the ultimate sentencing determinations”, is therefore unconstitutional. The Court reversed the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court and remanded the case for further proceedings not inconsistent with the opinion of this Court. [Timothy Lee Hurst v. Florida, 577 U. S. ____ (2016), decided on 12.01.2016]

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