Lawmakers push to re-sentence a majority of Florida's death row inmates

(Image Source: MGN)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Florida lawmakers usually criticize judges for being too lenient, but when it comes to hundreds of death cases, a legislative committee believes the state's Supreme Court justices are being too harsh.

Just over a year ago, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that about half of the people on death row were entitled to be re-sentenced, but the other half, sentenced before 2002, were stuck with the sentence they got.

"These legal distinctions are, while accepted and appropriate, are from a fundamental fairness perspective spurious," said Human Rights Attorney Mark Schlakman.

In 2001, Jacksonville killer David Miller was sent to death row by a vote of seven to five. His case is one of 80 opinions released over the past few weeks, telling inmates convicted before 2002 that it doesn't matter if their sentence was less than unanimous.

"I think that date of 2002 is arbitrary, and I don't think it's fair," said Senator Ronald Bracy.

The court's majority said in part, litigation must, at some point, come to an end.

But two of the seven justices think the cutoff date isn't fair and have repeatedly said so in dissenting opinions.

Now, a state senate committee is telling the court the same thing.

"A should equal A when it comes to justice. Setting an arbitrary date doesn't equal justice. I think we need to go back in time and say all of these cases that are similarly situated should be treated the same," said Senator Jeff Brandes.

If the admonition passes the Senate, it will likely die in the House, which has always wanted a ten-two jury verdict.

The fact a legislative committee sought to intervene is a message to the court that lawmakers are watching.

Every inmate on death row was found guilty by a unanimous jury, but very few were unanimous in the recommendation for death.

The reason Florida's high court choose the 2002 date is because that's when the U.S. Supreme Court first ruled juries must vote unanimously when sentencing someone to death.