Florida’s Single-Juror-Veto Law Defeats Justice in Parkland Case

For the sentencing phase of capital cases, some states have true unanimous verdict laws. The jury must deliberate until it is unanimous one way or the other, just as they do in the guilt phase. If they are truly hung, the penalty trial is done over before another jury. California and Arizona have true unanimity laws.

Unfortunately, when Florida rewrote its sentencing law in the wake of a Supreme Court decision throwing out the old one, the Legislature unwisely chose a single-juror-veto law. In this system, if the jury votes 11-1 for the death penalty, the view of the one prevails over the view of the eleven, and the defendant gets a life sentence. That system introduces needless arbitrariness into sentencing, as the luck of getting one juror who has hard-core anti-death-penalty views (and possibly lied on voir dire) or who is willing to accept claimed mitigation that most people reject will result in a life sentence for one defendant under circumstances where others will be sentenced to death.

Strangely, Florida’s prosecutors didn’t object at the time this legislation was passing. I tried to warn them, but they didn’t listen. This is the result:

Jury foreman Benjamin Thomas told CBS News Miami that the verdict came down to a juror who believed Cruz was mentally ill and that because of that, he shouldn’t receive the death penalty. Mr. Thomas said one juror was a “hard no” and two others ended up voting that way as well, adding that he was unhappy with the decision.

Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa Alhadeff was killed in the shooting, said in remarks to reporters after the verdict was delivered, “I am so beyond disappointed and frustrated with this outcome.” Her husband, Ilan Alhadeff, added, “I’m disgusted with the system, that you can allow 17 dead and 17 others shot and wounded and not give the death penalty. What do we have the death penalty for?”

So it was 9-3 in the end. In California or Arizona, the case would be headed for a retrial. In Florida, because of a bad choice by its Legislature, this mass murderer is permanently off the hook.

Floridians who, like the Alhadeffs, are disgusted with this system should ask every candidate for the Legislature if they will support replacing the single-juror-veto law with a true unanimity law like Arizona’s. If they say no or will not give a straight answer, vote them out.

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