Florida Senate addresses death penalty during hearing

Courtesy of The Morning Call

Florida legislature passed Senate Bill 7068 Monday requiring a jury to have a unanimous verdict for recommending the death penalty.

Last week, the House passed a proposal that obliges only nine of 12 jurors to recommend capital punishment. According to the proposal, both chambers would prohibit a judge from imposing the death penalty if the jury recommends life in prison.  

However, the bill also states that a judge has the authority to decide on life in prison, even if the jury recommends death.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, representing District 9, said SB 7068 requires a unanimous jury in order to propose the death penalty.

“The committee bill contains that we have to have a unanimous jury to fine for the death penalty and a unanimous jury to fine for the aggravators that proceed to ultimately a recommendation of death,” Gibson said.

During the hearing many citizens and organization came in support of the proposal.

Florida resident Juan Melendez was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to the death penalty years ago until he was proven innocent.  Melendez attended the hearing in support of the bill.

“I’m down here to encourage the senators to vote for the jury to have a unanimous jury decision when considering the recommendation of death,” Melendez said.  

Melendez said that he was an example of why the proposal recently passed by the House was ineffective.

“The other side wants the vote to be nine to three. I am a prime example it do not work,” Melendez said. “Because in my case the vote was nine to three and they sentenced me to death, and 17 years and eight months later they found out that I did not commit the crime.”

Melendez stated this bill could help protect the innocent from being sentenced to the death penalty.

“With this bill they will give less death sentences and that will save lives,” Melendez said. “It will reduce a tiny bit the risk of executing an innocent person.”

Melendez believes that the only way the jury can assure an innocent person is never wrongfully executed or sentenced to the death is to abolish the death penalty.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, representing District 22, said the judicial system must be repaired.

“All the evidence points that we have a system in crisis and we have to address it and I think that these provisions are a meaningful step in the right direction to address this,” Brandes said.