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DeSantis signs bill to lower bar on death sentence in Florida


Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the 2023 NHGOP Amos Tuck Dinner in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., April 14, 2023. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill on Thursday ending a requirement that juries need to vote unanimously to recommend capital punishment before a judge in a capital felony trial can sentence a defendant to death.

The Republican governor, who is expected to run for his party’s 2024 presidential nomination, gave final approval to legislation that authorizes juries in capital cases to recommend the death penalty in the event that four jurors or fewer object. The measure received strong support in the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.

Support for the change picked up in October when a jury failed to reach a unanimous decision on a death sentence for Nikolas Cruz, convicted of killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The 2018 rampage stands as one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

Three jurors voted against a death sentence, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, leaving Cruz to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Surrounded by victims’ parents on Thursday, DeSantis signed the bill that he said would “ensure proper justice” is delivered in future cases.

“Once a defendant in a capital case is found guilty by a unanimous jury, one juror should not be able to veto a capital sentence,” he said in a statement.

Florida prosecutors trying capital felony cases would need to convince a supermajority, or two-thirds, of a 12-member jury panel that someone who is convicted deserves the death penalty.

The change only affects the penalty phase of capital trials. It would have no effect on the requirement for a jury’s unanimous vote to convict a defendant.

Florida joins Alabama as the only states where a unanimous jury decision is not required, the Death Penalty Information Center noted.