The sentence imposed on a criminal defendant convicted of a crime depends on numerous factors, including whether the sentence should be increased or reduced due to any aggravating or mitigating circumstances. Thus, if a jury is not properly advised of the weight of such circumstances or how they should be assessed, it can adversely affect a defendant’s case. In a recent ruling issued by the Supreme Court of Florida, the court clarified the burden of proof that applies to mitigating circumstances, in a case in which the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder. If you live in St. Petersburg and are charged with murder or any other violent crime, it is advisable to consult a skillful St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to discuss your case.
Facts Regarding the Case and Sentencing Hearing
It is reported that the defendant was charged with and convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to death, after which he filed a petition for relief. He was then granted a new penalty-phase trial and was sentenced to death a second time, after which he appealed, arguing, in part, that the trial court made a fundamental error by neglecting to instruct the jury regarding the burden of proof that applied to mitigating circumstances.
The burden of Proof that Applies to Findings Related to Mitigating Circumstances
On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court was required to advise the jury that it must find beyond a reasonable doubt that any aggravating factors were adequate to impose a death sentence and that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors. The court disagreed. Specifically, the court noted that while previous case law suggested that a jury must determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the weight and sufficiency of any aggravating factors required a recommendation that a defendant should be sentenced to death, the prior courts mischaracterized the standard.