Florida had a long-standing practice of allowing imposition of the death penalty without the unanimous support of a jury. Before the 2016 ruling in Hurst v. Florida, courts here only required a recommendation of a simple majority of jurors (7-5), though the decision was ultimately up to the judge. Not Ok, ruled the U.S. Supreme Court, finding it a violation of the Sixth Amendment. The state legislature revised the rules, deciding at least 10 out of 12 jurors needed to agree in order to impose the death penalty. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that still wasn’t good enough, as it violated the Eighth Amendment’s provision against cruel and unusual punishment. Juror input and consensus is mandatory in capital cases.
The Florida Supreme Court – for the second time in as many months – ruled the state’s death penalty law is unconstitutional and can’t be applied to prosecutions that are pending. Effectively, that means death penalty murder trials are on hold for now. The ruling was handed down in a one-paragraph order. Some judges, including chief judge John Galluzzo for Brevard and Seminole counties, have held that the guilt phase of these trials may proceed, so long as the sentencing phase is postponed until after state lawmakers have time to rewrite the statute.
These judges have defended the decisions saying that while the rulings that have been handed down from the Florida Supreme Court may seem confusing, it’s believed capital murder trials could continue, so long as certain defense rights are defended. Specifically, that means that all 12 members of the jury must unanimously agree to recommend the death penalty, rather than simply a majority or having the judge decide, as has been the case in the past with this state.
However, the most recent order handed down by the state supreme court says that Florida’s death penalty law has been invalidated “as a whole.” The court was very clear in saying it cannot be applied to prosecutions that are pending. Meanwhile, the high court’s ruling last month indicated that the state’s death penalty law was so fundamentally erroneous – and had been that way for so long – that more than half the people on death row are likely entitled to new sentencing hearings. That covers more than 200 inmates who are waiting to die on Florida’s death row. Continue reading
In 2001, a Broward County boy became the youngest ever in American to be sentenced to life in prison. That was 15 years ago.
Recently, a number of those who were involved in the Lionel Tate case, including the judge, the prosecutor and the defense attorney, convened as part of a panel before the Broward County Crime Commission’s conference on juvenile and adolescent violence. They were there to discuss the landmark case, which involved a 12-year-old boy who in 1999 killed a 6-year-old girl whom his mother had been babysitting. He was reportedly attempting to imitate the pro-wrestling moves that he had seen on television.
An appellate court overturned Tate’s murder conviction in 2004, finding it wasn’t clear he had understood the charges. That led to a plea deal in which he agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a sentence of 10 years probation. Those who were involved in the criminal case say they lacked clear guidelines for how they were supposed to handle matters like this. They had never before faced this type of circumstance, and the courts didn’t offer much guidance. Continue reading
To those on the outside, it appeared they were living a luxurious lifestyle funded by their creativity and business savvy as rappers and music producers.
In reality, authorities say Nelson and his cohorts were actually making their money selling sex and drugs. Now, Nelson is the first of his co-defendants to be convicted. He is the first Broward County man to be deemed guilty under human trafficking laws passed two years ago, according to The Sun Sentinel. He now faces life in prison. Continue reading
It should come as little surprise that persons who are mentally ill comprise a significant portion of the incarcerated population. A recent report by the Treatment Advocacy Center indicated that American prisons and jails house an estimated 360,000 inmates with mental illness – or about 10 times the number of mentally ill patients in state psychiatric hospitals.
Now, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has taken a look at that issue from a micro perspective, analyzing how it has affected those specifically in Broward County.
The crux of what reporters discovered is this:
- Those charged with minor felonies in Broward’s mental health court face punishment even when they are never found guilty;
- These individuals spend six times longer in the criminal justice system than those in regular court;
- About one-third of these individuals spend five years or more in the criminal justice system – even with no conviction at all!