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Justices review Florida's death penalty sentencing system

death penalty
Posted at 2:55 PM, Oct 13, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-13 14:55:00-04

WASHINGTON -- Florida's unique system for imposing the death penalty is encountering some skeptics on the Supreme Court.

But it was not clear Tuesday whether a majority would find that the state gives judges too much power to decide capital sentences.

The justices heard arguments in the case of inmate Timothy Lee Hurst, who was convicted of killing his manager at a Popeye's restaurant in Pensacola. A jury divided 7-5 in favor of death, but a judge imposed the sentence.

Hurst's attorney argues that Florida's system is unconstitutional because juries play only an advisory role in recommending death. The judge considers factors independently and can reach a different decision.

Florida's solicitor general says the system works because a jury first decides if the defendant is eligible for the death penalty.