US Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that Florida’s capital punishment system is unconstitutional as it gives too much decision power to judges instead of jurors.
“The Sixth Amendment protects a defendant’s right to an impartial jury,” Sotomayor stated. “Florida’s sentencing scheme, which required the judge alone to find the existence of an aggravating circumstance, is therefore unconstitutional.”
The justices voted 8 to 1 declaring that the sentencing procedure in Florida violates federal law as it gives only advisory role to the jury.
“A jury’s mere recommendation is not enough,” Sotomayor underscored.
Currently, there are 390 inmates on the death row in Florida, according to media reports, and the Supreme Court’s decision could unleash a wave of appeals from those sentenced to death.
In December, the Death Penalty Information Center said in an annual report that the use of capital punishment in the United States has been reduced by a third compared to 2014. Moreover, the number of death row inmates fell below 3,000 for the first time since 1995.