Q&A of the Day – Could Judge Rule Against the Jury in Cruz Case? 

Today’s entry: @brianmuddradio #CruzVerdict..illustrates the gulf between Justice and Law. #SeriousQuestion.. Do you foresee any chance of the Judge setting the Jury aside and delivering a Directed Verdict?? Is it possible here in Florida? She would emerge a Heroine! 

Bottom Line: In the wake of Thursday’s jury recommendation for life in prison, as opposed to the death penalty, in the Cruz sentencing trial, which left many shocked, none the least of which were victims’ parents, your question is one which has cropped up conversationally. The jury’s recommendation in each of the 17 murders was for life in prison, however if it’s a recommendation, does that provide for an opportunity for the judge to perhaps look the other way on the recommendation and instead produce a death penalty judgement? As I mentioned on Friday... The will of the families was not done. To your point, there’s no doubt that if Judge Scherer were to render a death penalty verdict, she’d be a Heroine in the eyes of the families. And as many have said, from parents to Governor DeSantis, if the evil carried out at Stoneman Douglas four and a half years ago wasn’t grounds for use of the death penalty...what would be? But there’s a finite answer to your question. There’s no allowance for the judge to rule in opposition to the jury’s decision under Florida Law. The catalyst behind this was a 2016 Supreme Court Decision.  

Until January of 2016, Florida’s law did allow for a judge to take a jury’s recommendation under advisement, but ultimately could apply sentencing they viewed as appropriate in capital punishment cases. January 12th of 2016, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the Hurst v. Florida case that Florida’s capital punishment law was unconstitutional. In a split decision Justice Sotomayer writing the majority opinion stated: The Sixth Amendment protects a defendant’s right to an impartial jury. This right required Florida to base Timothy Hurst’s death sentence on a jury’s verdict, not a judge’s factfinding. Florida’s sentencing scheme, which required the judge alone to find the existence of an aggravating circumstance, is therefore unconstitutional. The resulting opinion effectively made a jury’s recommendation in any capital punishment case the binding verdict. Florida’s decision was a broad opinion which also struck down similar laws in other states. As a result, Florida was forced to create a new law to come in line with the SCOTUS ruling. In March of 2016, among the first bills emerging from the state’s legislative session was Florida’s new policy signed into law by Governor Rick Scott. The policy removed the provision of a simple majority recommendation by a jury as binding for capital punishment (the Hurst verdict was a 7-5 jury split) and made the jury recommendation binding as was required by the Supreme Court.  

There is now conversation of a potential policy change in Florida’s capital punishment law once again in the wake of the Cruz case. The question is would any legal change pass constitutional muster given the Supreme Court’s previous ruling? Obviously, the composition of the High Court has shifted a bit since January of 2016, and there’s perhaps a possibility that a differently crafted law than the one Florida previously had, which was struck down, might net a different result if challenged before the court. The flip side is it’s a pretty narrow legal path forward if attempted. Additionally, it’d have no bearing on the Cruz sentence regardless. It’s apparent the jury broke 9-3 in favor of the death penalty in his case. Under Florida’s previous law the jury would have recommended the death penalty and the judge likely would have obliged.  

The November 1st sentencing by Judge Scherer is a mere formality at this point. But for those who are dismayed by this verdict, here’s perspective shared with me by a listener this weekend: Dear Brian: I have been saddened by last week's talk about the death penalty. I feel for those parents, our community, and hate scums are much as the next guy, but…we need to get rid of the death penalty option. 

All who benefit are the lawyers and “experts” (monetarily), and the news media. I am sure you know it cost more to defend and appeal a death sentence than to keep an inmate in prison for life. 

I have been in prison, trust me, life in prison is MORE punishment than death. I had an old inmate once tell me “even if the building were made of gold, it’s still a PRISON”, so true. 

Keep up the good work. 

Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.  

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com  

Gettr, Parler & Twitter: @brianmuddradio  

iHeartRadio: Use the Talkback feature – the microphone button on our station’s page in the iHeart app.     

Wooden court gavel on black background. Symbol of justice, judge and trial.  Auction. Law and Justice, Legality concept, Judge.

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