In Hurst v. Florida, the Supreme Court held Florida’s death penalty scheme violated the Sixth Amendment because judges, rather than juries, found sentencing facts necessary to impose death. That Sixth Amendment ruling has implications for Florida’s Eighth Amendment jurisprudence.
Under the Eighth Amendment rule of Caldwell v. Mississippi, capital juries must appreciate their responsibility for death sentencing. Yet, Florida has instructed juries that their fact-findings merely support sentencing recommendations, while leaving the ultimate sentencing decision to a judge. Because Hurst clarifies that the Sixth Amendment requires juries to find the operative set of facts on which sentences are actually determined, Florida must revisit whether its capital juries have felt the full weight of their proper constitutional role.
Under the Eighth Amendment rule of Clemons v. Mississippi, appellate courts may reweigh sentencing facts and conduct harmless error analyses after finding an invalid aggravating factor was used at sentencing. Florida has permitted Clemons review on judge-found facts. After Hurst, Florida must revisit whether such review required sentencing facts found by juries.
Florida’s pre-Hurst death penalty scheme was held to satisfy the Eighth Amendment in Proffitt v. Florida. That holding relied on the involvement of juries in finding sentencing facts and automatic review by the Florida Supreme Court. Hurst makes clear that Florida juries had no involvement in finding sentencing facts, and appellate review was based on facts improperly found by judges. Hurst, therefore, requires that Florida revisit Proffitt.
Repairs to Florida’s Eighth Amendment jurisprudence should be made in the immediate aftermath of Hurst, while the finality of pre-Hurst death sentences already must be disturbed to satisfy the Sixth. In other words, Florida can repair today at little expense Eighth Amendment problems that may prove catastrophic tomorrow. And Florida, full as it is of able sailors, should know not to spoil the ship for a halfpennyworth of tar.
Craig Trocino and Chance Meyer,
Hurst v. Florida’s Ha’p’orth of Tar: The Need to Revisit Caldwell, Clemons, and Proffitt,
70 U. Miami L. Rev.
Available at: https://repository.law.miami.edu/umlr/vol70/iss4/6