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Florida’s Supreme Court dismantles death penalty safeguards

| Jan 13, 2021 | Criminal Defense

“I could not dissent more strongly.” Those were the words of Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga as he penned his opposition to the court’s latest decision.

It was just one of many decisions by the court in recent months that have, essentially, gutted the safeguards that once protected people in this state from facing the death penalty unfairly.

A newly conservative court has eliminated legal guardrails

Many feel like the court was reshaped in a conservative vision by appointments that were designed for this very purpose. As the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center states, “It is clearly no longer a neutral arbiter. The justices were handpicked for their far-right-wing beliefs, and they are aggressively substituting their views…in place of well-established law.”

While there have been a number of twists and turns along the road to where things stand today, one of the most profound changes centers around a ruling that says that a jury need not be unanimous in imposing the death penalty on a defendant — and that only a single aggravating factor may be enough to elevate an ordinary crime to a capital case.

Later, the court also ruled that there is no need to apply any extra scrutiny to death penalty cases where the evidence is entirely circumstantial. Finally, it’s most recent ruling declared that updated methods of determining whether or not a defendant is intellectually disabled (and, therefore, ineligible for the death penalty) does not have to be applied retroactively.

Justice Labarga has increasingly become the only voice of dissent against measures that now makes Florida an outlier among death penalty states.

More than ever, a strong defense matters

If you’re charged with a serious crime in Florida, make no mistake: The system is heavily stacked in the prosecutor’s favor. Get an experienced defense attorney on your side as quickly as possible.