Supreme Court Strikes Down Florida Death Penalty Law

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida's death penalty law Tuesday, declaring it unconstitutional because it does not require that a jury make the life or death decision.

The 8-1 ruling was the latest blow to the death penalty, which has lost ground in the United States in recent years in terms of both the number of sentences and actual executions.

"The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death. A jury's mere recommendation is not enough," Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the majority.

The case before the court was that of Timothy Hurst, a man who was sentenced to death for murdering the manager of the restaurant where he worked in 1998.

The jury had recommended the death penalty in his case by a 7-5 vote, but it was the judge who ultimately ordered that Hurst be executed.

Florida is one of a few U.S. states that do not require a jury to reach a unanimous verdict when sentencing someone to death.

Under Florida's system, the jury makes a recommendation to a judge on whether to impose the death sentence.

The judge, however, is not obliged to follow the jury's advice in deciding whether the necessary aggravating circumstances are present in the murder to justify the death penalty.

The Supreme Court ruled that this violates the Sixth Amendment's guarantee that all defendants have the right to an impartial jury.

The United States executed 28 people in 2015, the fewest since 1991, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

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