Florida won’t be alone if it adopts non-unanimous jury verdicts in death penalty cases, but it would be the biggest outlier of the outlying states on capital punishment, legal experts say.
Only three of the 27 states that have the death penalty do not require a unanimous verdict. In Missouri and Indiana, a judge can make the decision if a jury can’t reach unanimity. In Alabama, a 10-2 jury can hand down a death sentence. Seven states have imposed moratoriums on capital punishment.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, and state lawmakers moved to allow a death sentence if at least eight of the 12 jurors agree. The legislation was introduced in the wake of the 9-3 jury vote on the death penalty for the 2018 Parkland high school mass murderer.
“It’s probably a bad idea. It will tie things up in litigation,” John Blume, director at Cornell Law School’s Death Penalty Project, told The Washington Times. “It’s an outlier, and what it would allow really is sort of what you saw in non-unanimous sentencing. It would basically dilute or remove minority participation.”
Richard Dieter, interim executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the high school shooting case isn’t a reason for the state to upend the entire standard.
“It’s a big deal sort of going back on something so fundamental as our jury system in the country. It’s not just changing from 9-3 to 10-2. That might not be a big deal. But doing away with unanimity, I think, a lot of caution should be practiced in that change,” Mr. Dieter said. “And in the sense that this is happening in response to one case is a concern.”
A 2020 analysis from his group found that judge-imposed death sentences without jury unanimity “create a heightened risk