Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Florida Supreme Court blocks execution of inmate

Posted By on Tue, Feb 2, 2016 at 4:52 PM

The Florida Supreme Court decided to stay the February execution of Michael Ray Lambrix, who was sentenced to death for the 1983 murders of Clarence Moore and Aleisha Bryant, according to an order filed Tuesday. 

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month in Hurst v. Florida that the state's death penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave more power to judges over juries regarding capital sentences. Since then, the courts and legislators have been questioning which inmates the new ruling applies to. Lambrix, whose execution was scheduled for Feb. 11, had a jury recommend the death penalty for him by a vote of 10-2 in one murder and an 8-4 vote in the other murder, with a judge imposing the sentence, according to National Public Radio.

Florida's unique death penalty sentencing system allows the judge, not the jury, to determine what facts exist to warrant a death sentence in the evidentiary hearing part of the penalty phase. The jury, by a majority vote – not a unanimous vote, which is needed during the first part of the trial – renders an "advisory sentence" to the judge. But the judge doesn't have to follow their advice. Regardless of the recommendation the jury makes, the judge is ultimately responsible for handing down a sentence.

"The Sixth Amendment protects a defendant's right to an impartial jury," writes Justice Sonia Sotomayor for the majority in Hurst v. Florida. "This right required Florida to base Timothy Hurst's death sentence on a jury's verdict, not a judge's fact finding. Florida's sentencing scheme, which required the judge alone to find the existence of an aggravating circumstance, is therefore unconstitutional." 

Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente told attorneys during Lambrix's hearing Tuesday that she was concerned about how close Lambrix was to receiving a life sentence for one of the murders and Florida's "outlier" status. 

"We've got substantial inequality in Florida in what happens," Pariente says.

There are currently 389 inmates on death row. 

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