Miami federal judge rules Florida’s death penalty unconstitutional

originally by:
19th June 2011

A Miami federal judge ruled Wednesday that the way Florida courts mete out the death penalty is unconstitutional because juries — not judges — should be the ones to spell out which details about the crime justify execution. U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez ordered that Paul H. Evans, convicted in a 1991 murder-for-hire case in Vero Beach, must receive a new sentencing hearing.

The ruling, likely to be argued in appellate courts for years, does not strike down Florida’s capital-punishment law. But it could force lawmakers to change the statute, and could give recent convicts new avenues for appeal, legal experts say.

“If the case survives appeals, the Florida Legislature is going to have to modify the law to allow jurors to explain why someone deserves the death penalty,” said Miami attorney Terry Lenamon, founder of the Florida Capital Resource Center, a support group for death-penalty defense cases.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, through a spokeswoman, said Wednesday that her office would request a rehearing and appeal the decision.

Martinez was appointed to the federal bench in 2002 by President George W. Bush.

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