A former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court says the state’s death penalty process will be left in “chaos” as a result of recent court decisions involving how the process is administered.
In the past, a jury would recommend whether someone convicted of murder should be given the death penalty. The jury’s recommendation could be a simple majority. But, the final decision as to whether a person would receive the death penalty was left up to the judge.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that giving the judge the final say violated a defendant’s right to a trial by jury. The high court also took exception with a majority vote, saying the jury’s decision on the death penalty needed to be unanimous.
Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature enacted a law requiring a unanimous jury decision before a person can be sentenced to death.
The rulings mean that approximately 150 inmates on Florida’s death row can now request a new sentencing hearing to determine if their death sentences will stand.
Former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald Kogan says that could be a big problem.
“That’s not an easy thing to go back and dig up all of this evidence and especially to dig up all the witnesses,” Kogan told reporters during a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “We have been very, very negligent in the state of Florida in handling these types of cases.”
Kogan said there are inmates on Florida’s death row who were convicted 30 or more years ago. He says it won’t be as simple as letting a new jury read the transcripts from the old trial. He says both sides will have to put on evidence for a new jury to consider.
“You’ve got a mess and there’s no doubt about that,” said Kogan.
Juanita Perez’s son, Benjamin Hamilton, and granddaughter, Ivory, were both murdered in Brevard County in 2009. The man convicted of killing them, Justin Heyne, did not receive a unanimous decision in the sentencing phase and will likely receive a new hearing.
“The fact that this process has to begin all over again when we were promised it was over. It’s harmful to all families, even if you want it or not,” said Perez. “The only one who benefits from this is the state attorney.”
Perez said she didn’t ask for the death penalty in her son’s and granddaughter’s murders in the first place and doesn’t want to be put the process again.