Florida death penalty ruled unconstitutional…again

Florida faith leaders against the death penaltyLast month, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that death row inmate Timothy Hurst is entitled to a new sentencing hearing because the jury in his case was not unanimous in recommending a death sentence. The Court held that both the Florida and U.S. Constitutions require a unanimous jury recommendation of death to be able to sentence someone to death.

This decision leaves Florida without a valid death penalty statute. After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida’s death penalty statute in January 2016, the Florida Legislature passed a new statute requiring a 10-2 jury recommendation of death to impose a death sentence. Florida’s current statute fails to meet the constitutional requirement of jury unanimity outlined by the Florida Supreme Court in Hurst.

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Recommended this week

“Recommended this week” features highlights from the past week in news about the death penalty, crime survivors, and trauma-informed responses to crime.

Three States to Watch if You Care About the Death PenaltyThe Marshall Project
Voters in Oklahoma, Nebraska, and California will face death penalty questions at the polls. The Marshall Project looks at what’s on the ballot in each of the states and what is at stake.

Baltimore Is Attacking the Roots of Violence with Public Health Measures—and Saving LivesScientific America
Violence is contagious and can spread from person to person, just like a disease. The Baltimore City Health Department is bringing down violence in some of Baltimore’s highest violence neighborhoods using a public health approach.

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Death Penalty Support Plunges to 40-Year Low – an update from CCATDP

Florida’s death penalty has remained in the national spotlight as of late. In January, the Sunshine State’s capital sentencing scheme was ruled unconstitutional because it gave judges, rather than jurors, too much power in the death penalty sentencing process. As a result, Florida’s legislature passed a bill requiring at least a 10-2 jury vote in order to sentence someone to die, but this statute was quickly deemed unconstitutional by a Miami-Dade judge.

However, the courts didn’t settle the matter until recently when the decision was appealed to the state’s Supreme Court, which agreed that Florida’s sentencing statute was a constitutional violation. Until the legislature addresses this issue, Florida is effectively without a death penalty, which should be a welcome hiatus given the state’s poor record with capital punishment.

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Faith Leaders call for suspension of death penalty in Florida ‘outlier’ counties

Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties religious leader press conference with Christine speakingThis morning, religious leaders from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in Florida held a press conference to react to a report from Harvard’s Fair Punishment Project, branding the counties as “outliers” due to their overuse of the death penalty.

Press conference participants released a letter to the State Attorney’s Office signed by more than 75 local religious leaders demanding a halt to death penalty prosecutions in both counties. EJUSA’s Florida-based organizer, Christine Henderson (pictured at the podium), helped organize the sign-on letter and was on hand to speak about the national implications of the ‘outlier’ report.

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Report: America’s outlier death penalty counties

Outlier Counties report graphic

Harvard’s Fair Punishment Project released the second installment of a report showing the dysfunction in the use of the death penalty in the only 16 counties that continue to use it with any regularity. “Too Broken to Fix: An In-depth Look at America’s Outlier Death Penalty Counties,” looks at the 16 “outlier counties” – of 3,143 counties nationwide – that imposed five or more death sentences between 2010 and 2015.

The report looks at that last 10 years of  court opinions and records from these 16 “outlier counties” and analyzes all of the new death sentences handed down in these counties since 2010. Continue Reading →

Recommended this week

“Recommended this week” features highlights from the past week in news about the death penalty, crime survivors, and trauma-informed responses to crime.

Execution drop makes some think death penalty is fading awayAssociated Press
The end is near. Executions are on track to hit a 25-year low in 2016.

Colorado Rep Don Pabon on John Fugelsang’s ‘Tell Me Everything’, Sirius XM via YouTube
The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL) recently passed a resolution in favor of repealing the death penalty. With the help of Equal Justice USA, they studied the issue and came to the conclusion that the system is broken beyond repair and must be ended. Colorado State Representative Dan Pabon joins John Fugelsang on Sirius XM’s “Tell Me Everything” to talk about the resolution and NHCSL’s commitment to ending the death penalty in the U.S.

Meet The Ex-Gang Members From Chicago, Baltimore Trying to Keep Blood Off The StreetsThe Real News on YouTube
A video primer on the Cure Violence model to prevent harm and treat violence like a public health epidemic.
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Florida county responds after death penalty ‘outlier’ report

Duval religious leaders' press conferenceA new report from Harvard’s Fair Punishment Project found that the few counties that still use the death penalty are highly dysfunctional. One of the counties they identified is Duval County, Florida – a place where EJUSA organizer, Christine Henderson, lives and works. Christine and our local allies were outraged that their hometown’s record on the death penalty was so abysmal that it earned a national spotlight. We worked with local residents to respond to the report and call for an end to the death penalty.

The day after the report was released, EJUSA hosted a press conference of local religious leaders on the steps of the County Courthouse. They delivered a letter signed by over 50 of their local colleagues, asking the State Attorney’s office for the district to suspend its use of the death penalty.

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Families of murder victims call for Duval County, Florida to suspend the death penalty

Families of murder victims from across the country are calling on the Duval County State Attorney’s Office to demand a halt to the county’s use of the death penalty due to the harm it inflicts on surviving families.

55 family members signed a letter released today by EJUSA and Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation (MVFR).

“The lengths to which Duval County will go in its pursuit of the death penalty has been on display after the 2013 murder of Shelby Farah,” the families wrote in the letter. “Despite her mother’s request that her family be spared a death penalty case and the lengthy process it entails, prosecutors continue to seek it.”

“Duval County has sought the death penalty with essentially no regard for the harm it causes murder victims’ families,” said Shari Silberstein, Executive Director of EJUSA. “In less than a year, Florida’s death penalty law has been struck down twice as unconstitutional, leaving it in legal limbo. It’s the surviving families who are left to suffer the inevitable uncertainty of a death sentence. It’s no surprise that Darlene Farah has fought so hard to avoid such a fate.”

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Religious leaders call for suspension of the death penalty in Duval County, FL

Duval Religious Leaders press conferenceMore than 20 Duval County, Florida, religious leaders participated in an EJUSA press conference in front of the County Courthouse today. They gathered in reaction to a report from the Fair Punishment Project branding Duval County an “outlier” in its overuse of the death penalty. Clergy released a letter to the State Attorney’s Office signed by over 50 religious leaders from throughout the region, demanding a halt to death penalty prosecutions in their county.

“Duval County represents everything that is wrong with the small and shrinking number of counties that are still using the death penalty in America,” said EJUSA Executive Director Shari Silberstein. “They all suffer from overzealous prosecutors, ineffective defense lawyers, and racial bias, which helps to explain why Florida leads the nation with 26 death row exonerations.”

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Unconstitutional – an update from CCATDP

The latest sign that the death penalty is falling out of favor comes from Delaware, where earlier this month, the State Supreme Court struck down Delaware’s capital punishment statute as unconstitutional. The Court found that judges rather than juries wielded far too much power in determining who received a death sentence. The Delaware Attorney General has announced that his office will not appeal the ruling, which makes Delaware the latest in a growing number of states to scrap capital punishment.

Support for the death penalty is also shrinking across the United States. Two recently released polls show how unpopular capital punishment is becoming. According to the surveys, around 72% of Kentuckians and 53% of Oklahomans prefer alternatives to the death penalty.

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