Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Case highlights Fla. death penalty law

ORLANDO, Fla., Aug. 16 (UPI) -- If the murder trial of Casey Anthony ends in a conviction it will bring Florida's "hybrid" death penalty into the case, legal experts say.

Anthony is accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter Caylee Marie, whose remains were found near the family home in 2008, the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel reported Sunday.

If convicted, the jury will recommend a sentence -- either the death penalty or life in prison -- but Florida is one of only three states, along with Alabama and Delaware, that allow judges to decide against a jury, the newspaper said.

In 30 states, a jury must vote unanimously to sentence someone to death. A vote of 11-1 for death in those states means a mandatory life sentence, whether the judge agrees or not.

In Florida, however, an 11-1 vote for death would be a strong show of support for a death sentence and judges would normally be inclined to rule that way, experts say.

But under the state's "hybrid" system they are not required to, and are free to ignore the jury's penalty decision.

The system has been "an area of controversy," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington.

"I don't think the average person realizes Florida is that different," Dieter said. "In all of those [other] states, the judge can't state, 'I'm going to impose death anyhow [despite the jury's sentence].'"

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