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A day after the Senate passed its version of the bill, the House Judiciary Committee on Friday approved a measure that would eliminate a requirement for unanimous jury recommendations before judges can impose death sentences.
The committee voted 14-7 to approve the proposal (HB 555), which is now ready to go to the full House. Under the bill, judges could impose death sentences based on the recommendations of eight of 12 jurors. Judges would have discretion to sentence defendants to life in prison after receiving jury recommendations of death sentences.
But in such instances, the judges would have to explain in written orders their reasons for deviating from the death-sentence recommendations.
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Lawmakers have taken up the issue after Nikolas Cruz was sentenced to life in prison last year in the 2018 murders of 17 students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The life sentence came after jurors did not unanimously recommend he receive the death penalty.
Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina died in the school shooting, urged the House committee to approve the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Berny Jacques, R-Seminole.
“This bill is about victims’ rights, plain and simple,” Montalto said. But opponents pointed, in part, to questions about the constitutionality of the proposal and past exonerations of Death Row inmates. “Why would we open ourselves to more mistakes?” asked Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis, D-Ocoee.
The Senate on Thursday voted 29-10 to pass its bill (SB 450).
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