Last year, the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling in Hurst v. State struck down the prior capital sentencing statute allowing judges to impose the death penalty if a majority of jurors recommended death or to override a jury’s recommendation for a life sentence. Meanwhile, a separate decision in Perry v. State tossed an amended version of the statue, which gave judges the authority to impose the death penalty if 10 or more jurors recommended it. The state supreme court noted that it must be jurors who make that final decision and that determination must be unanimous, per the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling in Ring v. Arizona. Non-unanimous cases accounted for 20 percent of all Florida death sentences, and were disproportionately represented in exonerations of death row inmates. Also last year, the state legislature passed S.B. 280 which eliminated non-unanimous jury recommendations for the death penalty. That was signed and approved by the governor last month.
This brings us to the conflict regarding Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala, who has outright stated a refusal to seek the death penalty. The issue arose initially in a high-profile case in which Ayala asserted she did not plan to seek the death penalty for a man accused of killing a police officer. She further stated she did not plan to seek the death penalty for anyone else either. Scott subsequently removed her from the police killing case – and then also from 21 other first-degree murder cases. Continue reading