Florida Supreme Court Halts Execution to Address Recent Opinion Striking Down Death Penalty Law


The Florida Supreme Court yesterday stayed the execution of Michael Lambrix, which was scheduled for February 11, after hearing arguments about how last month’s United States Supreme Court decision striking down Florida’s death penalty scheme applies to existing cases.

On January 12, the United States Supreme Court held in Hurst v. Florida that Florida’s capital sentencing law is unconstitutional because it does not require the jury to make the critical findings necessary to impose the death penalty.

Alabama’s death penalty scheme has the same defect that was declared unconstitutional in Hurst: a jury returns an “advisory” sentencing decision, but it is not binding on the judge. Instead, in both Florida and Alabama, a judge makes the ultimate decision on whether to impose the death penalty. As the Alabama Supreme Court and United States Supreme Court have explained, Alabama’s death penalty statute is based on Florida’s sentencing scheme.

The Florida Supreme Court entered the stay after hearing arguments yesterday about the impact of Hurst on the case of Michael Lambrix, who was sentenced to death in the killings of two women after juries recommended death in both cases. “To execute people in Florida on the basis of a statute that has been declared unconstitutional is just wrong,” counsel for Mr. Lambrix argued. The justices expressed concern about how to fairly apply the constitutional ruling.

It would be unfair and arbitrary to move forward with an execution before the legal questions about the state’s death penalty law are properly resolved. As Justice R. Fred Lewis stated, “One person is executed today, but the one that comes up tomorrow is not, and there really is no difference in their cases.”

After the oral arguments in the case, the Florida Supreme Court issued an order staying Mr. Lambrix’s execution.

Delaware is the only other state with a capital sentencing scheme like the scheme in Florida and Alabama. On Monday, all death penalty cases were put on hold in Delaware until the state supreme court addresses the impact of Hurst. A stay of all pending cases was warranted, the court wrote, to ensure consistent application of the law throughout the state.