The most severe punishment a criminal defendant may face in Florida is the death penalty. Recent changes in Florida law, though, make it more difficult for a criminal defendant to be sentenced to death. In a recent Florida case in which the defendant was charged with murder, the court discussed the status of the current and past requirements for sentencing a defendant to the death penalty. If you are charged with murder or another violent offense, it is in your best interest to engage an aggressive Tampa violent crime defense attorney to develop a strategy for fighting to protect your rights.
Facts of the Case
It is reported that the defendant broke into a home in 1984, assaulted a teenage girl that was babysitting in the home, and stabbed her to death. Five days later, he murdered another victim in a substantially similar matter. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for each crime. Due to recent changes in the law, the defendant filed a motion to vacate his sentences on the grounds they were unlawful. The trial court denied the motion. The defendant then filed an appeal. Upon review, the appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling.
Death Penalty Sentences Under Florida Law
With regard to the sentence for the second crime, the court found that it was lawful under the sentencing scheme in effect at the time, and case law held that the intervening change in the law was not to be applied retroactively. As such, that sentence was affirmed. Regarding the second sentence, which due to appeals, was imposed much later, the court noted that the Supreme Court of Florida found the prior sentencing scheme to be unconstitutional because it allowed the judge issuing a sentence to find that an aggravating circumstance existed, which is necessary for the imposition of a death sentence, without a jury’s determination of fact.