TAMPA (FOX 13) - Another in a growing list of Florida judges has said the state does not have a death penalty until it addresses a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Defense attorney Jeff Brown said he was not surprised when Hillsborough County Judge Samantha Ward blocked prosecutors from seeking the death penalty in a murder case involving Carlos Rivas.
"Judge Ward has recognized what everybody already knew, that Florida doesn't have the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court has said the death penalty statue we have is unconstitutional," said Brown.
In November of 2012, prosecutors say Rivas killed a homeless man after stealing his money.
With his trial set to start in April and a death sentence looming over him, Rivas was likely relieved to hear Judge Ward say this:
"OK, based on the Hurst decision that concluded that Florida's capitol sentencing scheme is unconstitutional, I believe there currently exists no statutory authority in Florida in which the state can seek the death penalty, or there is no statutory authority where the court can impose the death penalty. I'm going to grant the defendant's motion to preclude the death penalty as a possible sentence."
Hillsborough State Prosecutors argued the court did not strike down the death penalty itself. They say the U.S. Supreme Court's decision only applies to the sentencing process in which the jury recommends life or death, but the judge makes the final decision.
"It's like being on the Titanic and just saying, 'full steam ahead. Let's just keep going, there's an iceberg there,' Brown said. "We don't have a statue. The idea that we will continue to seek the death penalty without a statue and hoping it gets fixed beforehand is crazy to me."
The situation has not stopped prosecutors from seeking the death penalty. In early February, prosecutors said Marisol Best, accused of killing her in-laws in November, will face a death sentence, if convicted. Expect that decision to be challenged by her attorneys soon.