Supreme Court Strikes Down Part of Florida’s Death Penalty

13scotus-web-master180A nearly unanimous Supreme Court struck down part of Florida’s capital punishment system this week. It found that Florida had given judges part of the role of jurors in determining whether to impose the death penalty. Only Associate Justice Samuel Alito (who has a pronounced record opposing rights for criminal defendants) voted to uphold the law. The case is Hurst v. Florida, No. 14-7505.

Timothy Lee Hurst was convicted of the 1998 murder of Cynthia Lee Harrison, a co-worker at a Popeyes restaurant in Escambia County, Fla. He was tried and sentenced to death in 2000. The murder was particularly gruesome. Hurst was convicted of taping the hands and mouth of Cindy Harrison, the assistant manager, and then savagely attacking her with a box cutter. He slit Harrison’s throat and left her in the restaurant freezer. He stole more than $1,000.

In 2000, a jury voted 11-1 to recommend the death sentence for Hurst, and a circuit judge agreed with the recommendation.

250px-Sonia_Sotomayor_in_SCOTUS_robePutting aside the natural anger and disgust over the crime, the case presented a fundamental question of who decides such questions in our system. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for seven justices and held that “The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death.” The decision amplifies the decision in 2002, in Ring v. Arizona, the Supreme Court ruled that juries and not judges must make the factual findings to support death sentences. It made no difference that Florida required the judge to consider the jury’s advisory verdict.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan joined the majority opinion. Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote a concurrence.

220px-010_alitoHowever, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented and argued that “In Ring, the jury found the defendant guilty of felony murder and did no more. Under that system, the jury played no role in the capital sentencing process. The Florida system is quite different. In Florida, the jury sits as the initial and primary adjudicator of the factors bearing on the death penalty.”

Here is the opinion: Hurst v. Florida

Source: NY Times

20 thoughts on “Supreme Court Strikes Down Part of Florida’s Death Penalty”

  1. Thou Shalt Not Kill!
    No exceptions in the text etched in stone. The Sears Roebuck Bible comes along with this Thou Shalt Not Murder horseapCray.

  2. I have read many scholars who argue an accurate interpretation of the commandment in question is “Thou shalt not murder.”
    A subtle distinction, but a distinction nonetheless.

  3. Thou shalt not kill, and the penalty for innumerable crimes under the Mosaic law was: death.
    It’s Jesus Christ who argued for clemency, indeed, not Moses. God seems to have changed his mind from the time when he was instructing the Hebrews to totally exterminate the Amalekites, Jerhico, etc.

  4. Renegade,

    “John…tx for the summary. Am wondering if the trial and execution were carried out within the period of and according to martial law?”

    There was no constitutional period of martial law.

    There was no war declared. There was no rebellion. There was no insurrection. There was no constitutional basis or authority for the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation or, incidentally, the “Reconstruction Amendments.”

    What there was, was de facto, legal SECESSION. The very same innate, God-given, natural and legal SECESSION availed of by Catalonia, Scotland, Pakistan, Bangladesh, West Virginia and the entire USSR.

    The religious zealot, tyrant and despot, Lincoln, decided, metaphorically, to beat the hell out of his wife and force her to stay in their marriage and to stay in their house. We shall inquire of the Counselors of Family Law if beating a spouse into submission is common and accepted practice.

    The inherent right to secession was understood by the Founders who had recently seceded from Great Britain. They, obviously, saw no need for constitutional delineation.

    There were no constitutional insurrection, rebellion or War Powers, including no power to issue “proclamations” under those powers, in the event of SECESSION.

    There certainly was no authority or constitutional basis to conduct a war of aggression against a sovereign foreign nation.

    Since no war* had been declared, the assertion that the Lincoln assassination was an act of war was laughable – or it would have been laughable if Lincoln hadn’t killed 1 million Americans (immediate, collateral and delayed effect) over an economic/labor issue which should have been effectively modified (abolished) through the use of economic/labor tools such as boycotts, divestiture, etc.


    “Secretary of War Edwin Stanton favored a quick military trial and execution. According to Secretary of Navy Gideon Welles, who favored trial in a civilian court, Stanton “said it was intention that the criminals should be tried and executed before President Lincoln was buried.” (Lincoln was buried on May 4, before the start of the conspiracy trial.) Edward Bates, Lincoln’s former attorney general, was among those objecting to a military trial, believing such an approach to be unconstitutional. Understanding the use of a military commission to try civilians to be controversial, President Johnson requested Attorney General James Speed to prepare an opinion on the legality of such a trial. Not surprisingly, Speed concluded in his opinion that use of a military court would be proper. Speed reasoned that an attack on the commander-in-chief before the full cessation of the rebellion constituted an act of war against the United States, making the War Department the appropriate body to control the proceedings.”

  5. Meanwhile, on the planet Zarcon, some 3 trillion light years away, they have ceased observing the behavior of the creatures inhabiting the planet Earth. There were once plans some time ago for the Zarconians to visit Earth to take some sample Earthings back to their Zoo for further observation and analysis. But when they observed that the top legal minds on Earth would spend countless hours obsessing over the proper decisions to make concerning what to do with their lowest forms of life on Earth, such as Timothy Lee Hurst, while far more important matters affecting higher forms of humanity were ignored, the Zarconians decided that the Earthlings weren’t worth observing.

  6. I have what may be a silly question.

    “In 2000, a jury voted 11-1 to recommend the death sentence for Hurst, and a circuit judge agreed with the recommendation.”

    If the case was that FL judges impose the death penalty, rather than juries, then how did a jury recommend the death sentence? Did I miss something in the article?

    I do agree with the Supreme Court that it should be up to a jury to impose the death penalty, where applicable.

  7. The asteroid that hit the Yucatan Peninsula killed most every living thing on the planet but American jurisprudence can’t impose the death penalty?

    Did the creator of the heavens and earth send that asteroid or have all asteroids gone rogue?

    35,000 Americans can be killed annually on the highways but murderers who give the death penalty, can’t receive the death penalty?

    Who thinks this stuff up? Are these “intelligent” people of “superior intelligence” making “intelligent” decisions? Was it an “intelligent” decision to void the “commerce clause” and cavalierly commingle the definitions of “state” and “federal” regarding the ACA?

    America is one crazy place. The tyrannical despot, Crazy Abe Lincoln, nullified and subverted the Constitution on a daily basis with impunity, but the conspirators to his murder received appropriate and swift justice.

    How is that law suit against the President in unconstitutional “overreach” and usurpation mode going – the very same President who abused the power of government against the People through the very 5th-amendment-taking Lois Lerner at the IRS, and committed election fraud by contriving a story that the Benghazi attack that killed the US Ambassador and 3 other Americans was caused by an anti-Muslim video, as fraudulently recounted incessantly by Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice et al. in the media?

    What the heck is going on here? Certainly not jurisprudence. Certainly not the Constitution.

  8. If any of you on the blog are Christian and are citizens of a state in America and think that someday you will get your interview with Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates and the topic will be whether you go to Hell, Heaven or Limbo (which is a suburb of Saint Louis called Ferguson), then consider this:
    The Sixth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Kill.

  9. I’m ready to just get rid of the death penalty. It’s never going to be a quick and efficient process. Our legal system is not capable of that. The death penalty we have now just drags things out forever making things more difficult for the victim’s family. Just go to life in prison with no parole.

  10. Florida should have seen this coming and been proactive. Government is the problem. So fix it already, Florida! I have grandchildren and want to know this scum can’t EVER come for them.

  11. As criminal as the supreme court has become they should have invalidated ALL capital punishment as the current legal system to far too corrupt to have that kind of power.

  12. John…tx for the summary. Am wondering if the trial and execution were carried out within the period of and according to martial law?

  13. Justice Swift And Sure

    The Trial of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators

    Murder to execution – April 14, 1865 – July 7, 1865.


    Secretary of War Edwin Stanton favored a quick military trial and execution. According to Secretary of Navy Gideon Welles, who favored trial in a civilian court, Stanton “said it was intention that the criminals should be tried and executed before President Lincoln was buried.”


    On the evening of May 9, General John Hantranft visited each prisoner’s cell to read the charges and specifications against them. Hantranft later wrote: “I had the hood [of each prisoner] removed, entered the cell alone with a lantern, delivered the copy, and allowed them time to read it, and in several instances, by request read the copy to them, before replacing the hood.”


    The Commission forwarded its sentences and the trial record to President Johnson for his review. Five of the nine Commission members, in the transmitted record, recommended to the President–because of “her sex and age”–that he reduce Mary Surratt’s punishment to life in prison. On July 5, Johnson approved all of the Commission’s sentences, including the death sentence for Surratt.

    The next day General Hartrandft informed the prisoners of their sentences. He told the four condemned prisoners that they would hang the next day.

    Surratt’s lawyers mounted a frantic effort to save their client’s life, hurriedly preparing a petition for habeas corpus that evening. The next morning, Surratt’s attorneys succeeded in convincing Judge Wylie of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia to issue the requested writ. President Johnson quashed the effort to save Surratt from an afternoon hanging when he issued an order suspending the writ of habeas corpus “in cases such as this.”

    Shortly after one-thirty on the afternoon of July 7, 1865, the trap of the gallows installed in the courtyard of the Old Arsenal Building was sprung, and the four condemned prisoners fell to their deaths. Reporters covering the event reported that the last words from the gallows stand came from George Atzerodt who said, just before he fell, “May we meet in another world.”

  14. Look at this itShay: from Alito:

    In light of this evidence, it defies belief to suggest that
    the jury would not have found the existence of either
    aggravating factor if its finding was binding. More than
    17 years have passed since Cynthia Harrison was brutally
    murdered. In the interest of bringing this protracted
    litigation to a close, I would rule on the issue of harmless
    error and would affirm the decision of the Florida Su-
    preme Court.

    – end of Alito itShay.

    What a dork! Alito needs to be impeached.

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