Senate panel advances measure allowing death penalty without unanimous jury

The bill would mean that just eight out of 12 jurors would have to agree to the death penalty.

A bill that would strip away the requirement that a jury unanimously agree in order to sentence someone to death advanced in front of a Senate committee.

Just two Democrats voted against the bill: Sens. Tina Polsky of Boca Raton and Bobby Powell of West Palm Beach.

Under the bill, eight out of 12 jurors — a “supermajority” — would have to agree for a defendant to face the death penalty, according to SB 450. Republican Sen. Blaise Ingoglia filed the bill, coming in the wake of the Parkland school shooter’s trial.

“I want to ensure that we don’t have another miscarriage of justice going forward, as we did with the Parkland families,” Ingoglia said.

Relatives of the Parkland victims said they support the changes for a lower threshold of jury members to favor the death penalty.

“My daughter, Gina, was murdered as she sat in a hallway by a cold, cruel, heinous killer,” Tony Montalto said. “She was failed by the system that was supposed to protect her. And then sadly, this fall, we saw that she was failed again by the justice system.”

In that trial, concluded in October, three jurors refused to hand down a death sentence in spite of video evidence showing the shooter on a rampage through Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. The bloodbath left 17 people dead and 17 more wounded.

The legislation follows Gov. Ron DeSantis call for a change in the state’s death penalty law.

A 2020 Florida Supreme Court decision removed the requirement that a jury be unanimous when agreeing on a death sentence. But the Legislature needs to pass a law describing under what circumstances the death penalty will be imposed. DeSantis said the House Speaker and the Senate President are both on board with adjusting the rules for capital sentencing.

Ingoglia also introduced an amendment that an 8-4 or a 9-3 jury majority for the death penalty could be overturned if a judge believed the penalty should be life.

Republican Rep. Berny Jacques of Seminole has filed an identical bill (HB 555).

Powell raised the issue that the law would give Florida the lowest standard for imposing the death penalty. Alabama currently requires a 10-2 decision for the death penalty.

Ingoglia agreed that was the case and added: “What I would say that what this bill would do is show that the state of Florida is serious about delivering justice to families such as the Parkland families.”

Ingoglia said that he believes that protest jurors get on death penalty cases, even though they swear beforehand they plan to listen to the evidence and are open to imposing the ultimate punishment.

“If we can’t agree on the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz you can’t agree with the death penalty for anyone,” Ingoglia said.

Howard Dimmig, Public Defender of the 10th Judicial Circuit in Polk County, warned that there would be more mistakes and more costs if the threshold for death penalty were lowered.

“When we didn’t have unanimity in Florida there have been 30 People sentenced to death row who had been exonerated — 30 — we lead the nation in that,” Dimmig said. 

Polsky said that she would be voting against the bill, even though she agreed that the Parkland case represented a terrible miscarriage of justice. The bill is not clear enough and raises a whole new set of issues, when the judge is allowed to recommend another sentence.

Polsky noted that she represents Parkland and holds the families’ needs near and dear.

“I won’t say his name and I do agree that the death penalty should have been found,” Polsky said.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].

One comment

  • Elliott Offen

    March 6, 2023 at 8:28 pm

    DeSantis and Scott have more homocides than Nichols Cruz. Set Cruz free and put DeSantis and Scott on death row. Donald Dillbeck was right.

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704