DeSantis signs law allowing 8 jurors, not 12, to recommend death penalty; lowest in U.S.

By: - April 20, 2023 3:41 pm

Gov. DeSantis signed the death penalty legislation on April 20, 2023. (Credit: DeSantis Twitter)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed into law a new requirement that lowers the number of jurors needed to recommend the death penalty from a unanimous 12-person vote to just eight jurors, the lowest threshold in the country.

“Today, I signed legislation ensuring the victims of the most heinous crimes get justice,” DeSantis tweeted. “Once a defendant in a capital case is found guilty by a unanimous jury, one juror should not be able to veto a capital sentence.”

As was the case with the governor’s recent signing of the permitless carry and the six-week abortion ban bills, DeSantis did not hold a press conference to announce his signing of this bill into law. Instead, his press office released a statement with a photo of the governor holding up the just-signed bill surrounded by Republican lawmakers, including the bill sponsors — Sen. Blaise Ingoglia from Central Florida and Rep. Berny Jacques from Pinellas County.

The measure, which DeSantis called for as part of his “law and order” agenda that he announced at an event with the Florida Sheriffs Association in January, gives the governor another legislative victory that he can take on the road when he officially declares his expected run for the Republican nomination for president in the coming months.


The motivation for lawmakers to change the law stemmed from the community outrage after a Broward County jury voted 9-3 last fall to send gunman Nikolas Cruz – who killed 17 people in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland — to prison for the rest of his life rather than execute him.

The statement from the governor’s office included comments from some of the family members of the victims of that tragic day.

“A few months ago, we endured another tragic failure of the justice system. Today’s change in Florida law will hopefully save other families from the injustices we have suffered,” said Ryan Petty, whose lost his 14-year-old daughter Alaina in the Parkland shooting. “I’d like to thank Gov. DeSantis and the Florida Legislature for this important legislation.”

“This bill is about victims’ rights, plain and simple. It allows the victims of heinous crimes a chance to get justice and have the perpetrators punished to the full extent of the law,” said Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter Gina was killed at Parkland.

There are only three states that don’t require a unanimous jury verdict in sentencing someone to death, but the requirement for just eight jurors to do so will give Florida the lowest threshold in the nation. Alabama requires at least 10 jurors to render such a verdict, while Missouri and Indiana let a judge decide when there is a divided jury, according to the Associated Press.

Less than a decade ago, Florida required just a simple majority of 12 jurors to vote to execute someone on death row. At that time, Florida was one of only three states with such a low threshold. That changed when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of Florida’s law in 2016.

The Legislature changed the law to require a 10-2 majority to recommend the death penalty, but the Florida Supreme Court ruled later in 2016 that such a measure would violate the state’s Constitution.

The Legislature came back in 2017 and voted to require a unanimous jury decision.


“If one of the primary justifications for the death penalty is to provide solace and finality to victims, instituting this new unconstitutional statute almost certainly does the opposite,” said Maria DeLiberato, director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

“This change is a return to Florida’s prior scheme — which the United States Supreme Court has already found unconstitutional — and which required nearly 100 new penalty phase trials. Many of those are still pending. This new law will immediately be challenged, and there will be extensive litigation, plunging the system — and victims’ families in particular — into decades of uncertainty and chaos.”

Critics have noted that there have been 30 death row exonerations in Florida since 1973, the highest number in the nation, and nearly all of those exonerations involved non-unanimous jury recommendations for death, or cases in which the judge overrode the jury’s life decision.

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.