POLITICS

New Ruling Hints At Ultimate Fate Of Florida's Death Row Inmates

Florida's death penalty is in turmoil following a recent Supreme Court ruling.

The Florida Supreme Court voted Tuesday to block next week's execution of Cary Michael Lambrix, a convicted murderer whose case holds clues to the future of Florida's capital punishment scheme. 

Florida's death penalty is in upheaval following the U.S. Supreme Court's Jan. 12 Hurst v. Florida ruling. In an 8-1 decision, the high court declared Florida's death sentencing scheme unconstitutional because it gave judges rather than juries the power to decide a capital sentence. 

Lambrix, who was facing execution Feb. 11 for a pair of 1983 murders, petitioned for a stay of execution following the Supreme Court decision.

Lambrix is among Florida's 389 inmates on death row who are awaiting to hear how their fate may change in light of Hurst: Florida must now determine if the Supreme Court's ruling applies retroactively to all of Florida's capital offenders who have already been sentenced to death.

Tuesday's ruling did not determine whether Lambrix will be spared permanently, though it halts the threat of execution for the time being. 

"To execute people in Florida on the basis of a statute that has been declared unconstitutional is just wrong," Lambrix's attorney Martin McClain said during oral arguments before the Florida Supreme Court Tuesday. 

"This case was final more than 30 years ago," Assistant Attorney General Scott Browne told Florida's justices. "There is nothing in law or logic that requires the court to retroactively apply this rule."

Browne went so far as to read a previous opinion written by Florida Supreme Court Justice R. Fred Lewis that supported his claim. 

"We could be wrong," Lewis said Tuesday, interrupting Browne. "We have to be big enough to admit it." 

Legal experts interviewed by The Huffington Post in the wake of the Hurst ruling were divided on how the Florida high court might interpret Hurst, but all agreed Lambrix's case would be the best indicator of what's to come. 

"We will get some hints with Michael Lambrix's execution," Michael Radelet, a sociologist and capital punishment expert at the University of Colorado Boulder, told HuffPost. "If the court grants relief in his case, they’re going to have to grant relief in a lot of other cases as well." 

Florida isn't the only state scrambling to ensure its death penalty scheme is constitutional in the wake of Hurst: Delaware, which has a similar sentencing scheme to Florida, on Monday put its death penalty on hold while the state sorts out the constitutionality.

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