Hurst v. State

Decision Date14 October 2016
Docket NumberNo. SC12–1947.,SC12–1947.
Citation202 So.3d 40
Parties Timothy Lee HURST, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Nancy Ann Daniels, Public Defender, David A. Davis, William Carl McLain, and Nada Margaret Carey, Assistant Public Defenders, Second Judicial Circuit, Tallahassee, FL, for Appellant.

Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and Carine L. Mitz, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, FL, for Appellee.

Robert C. Josefsberg of Podhurst Orseck, P.A., Miami, FL; Robert G. Kerrigan of Kerrigan, Estess, Rankin, McLeod & Thompson, LLP, Pensacola, FL; Karen Marcia Gottlieb, Florida Center for Capital Representation at Florida International University College of Law, Miami, FL; and Sonya Rudenstine, Gainesville, FL, for Amici Curiae Justice Harry Lee Anstead, Judge Rosemary Barkett, Martha Barnett, Talbot D'Alemberte, Hank Coxe, Justice Gerald Kogan, Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Florida Capital Resource Center, and Florida Center for Capital Representation at Florida International University College of Law.


This case comes before the Court on remand from the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Hurst v. Florida, ––– U.S. ––––, 136 S.Ct. 616, 193 L.Ed.2d 504 (2016) (Hurst v. Florida ), following its certiorari review and reversal of our decision in Hurst v. State, 147 So.3d 435 (Fla.2014) (Hurst v. State ). In that case, we affirmed Timothy Lee Hurst's death sentence, which was imposed after a second penalty phase sentencing proceeding. We held there, consistent with longstanding precedent, that Florida's capital sentencing scheme was not violative of the Sixth Amendment or the United States Supreme Court's decision in Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584, 122 S.Ct. 2428, 153 L.Ed.2d 556 (2002). See Hurst v. State, 147 So.3d at 445–46. We concluded that section 921.141, Florida Statutes (2012), the capital sentencing statute under which Hurst was sentenced to death, was not unconstitutional for failing to require the jury to expressly find the facts on which the death sentence was imposed in this case. Id. at 446. After Hurst sought certiorari review in the United States Supreme Court, that Court granted review in Hurst v. Florida, ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 1531, 191 L.Ed.2d 558 (2015), and agreed to entertain the following question:

Whether Florida's death sentencing scheme violates the Sixth Amendment or the Eighth Amendment in light of this Court's decision in Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 [122 S.Ct. 2428, 153 L.Ed.2d 556] (2002).

Id. at 1531.

Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed our decision in Hurst v. State and held, for the first time, that Florida's capital sentencing scheme was unconstitutional to the extent it failed to require the jury, rather than the judge, to find the facts necessary to impose the death sentence—the jury's advisory recommendation for death was “not enough.” Hurst v. Florida, 136 S.Ct. at 619. In so holding, the Supreme Court overruled its decisions in Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 104 S.Ct. 3154, 82 L.Ed.2d 340 (1984), and Hildwin v. Florida, 490 U.S. 638, 109 S.Ct. 2055, 104 L.Ed.2d 728 (1989), to the extent they approved Florida's sentencing scheme in which the judge, independent of a jury's factfinding, finds the facts necessary for imposition of the death penalty. See Hurst v. Florida, 136 S.Ct. at 624. The Supreme Court's ruling in Hurst v. Florida also abrogated this Court's decisions in Tedder v. State, 322 So.2d 908 (Fla.1975), Bottoson v. Moore, 833 So.2d 693 (Fla.2002), Blackwelder v. State, 851 So.2d 650 (Fla.2003), and State v. Steele, 921 So.2d 538 (Fla.2005), precedent upon which this Court has also relied in the past to uphold Florida's capital sentencing statute. Finally, the Supreme Court refused to take up the issue of whether the error in sentencing was harmless, but left it to this Court to consider on remand whether the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Hurst v. Florida, 136 S.Ct. at 624.

On remand, this Court accepted additional briefing and held oral argument concerning the effect of the Supreme Court's decision in Hurst v. Florida on capital sentencing in Florida, as well as on issues raised by Hurst and other issues of import to this Court. Hurst and amici curiae1 contend first that Hurst should be granted an automatic life sentence under the provisions of section 775.082(2), Florida Statutes (2016). Failing that, Hurst contends that the constitutional error in his sentencing proceeding cannot be deemed harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and that instead a new penalty phase proceeding is required.

As we will explain, we hold that the Supreme Court's decision in Hurst v. Florida requires that all the critical findings necessary before the trial court may consider imposing a sentence of death must be found unanimously by the jury. We reach this holding based on the mandate of Hurst v. Florida and on Florida's constitutional right to jury trial, considered in conjunction with our precedent concerning the requirement of jury unanimity as to the elements of a criminal offense. In capital cases in Florida, these specific findings required to be made by the jury include the existence of each aggravating factor that has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the finding that the aggravating factors are sufficient, and the finding that the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating circumstances. We also hold, based on Florida's requirement for unanimity in jury verdicts, and under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, that in order for the trial court to impose a sentence of death, the jury's recommended sentence of death must be unanimous.

For the reasons we will explain, we reject Hurst's claim that section 775.082(2), Florida Statutes (2016), mandates that Hurst receive an automatic life sentence.

However, we conclude that the error in Hurst's sentencing identified by the United States Supreme Court was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, we remand for a new penalty phase proceeding. We will address these issues in turn after a brief review of the facts and procedural background of this case.


The background and facts of this case were reiterated in our decision in Hurst v. State in pertinent part as follows:

Hurst was convicted for the May 2, 1998, first-degree murder of Cynthia Harrison in a robbery at the Popeye's restaurant where Hurst was employed in Escambia County, Florida. The victim, also an employee, had been bound and gagged and repeatedly cut and stabbed with a weapon consistent with a box cutter found at the scene. Hurst's conviction and death sentence were originally affirmed in Hurst v. State, 819 So.2d 689 (Fla.2002). In that decision, we set forth the facts surrounding the murder as follows:
On the morning of May 2, 1998, a murder and robbery occurred at a Popeye's Fried Chicken restaurant in Escambia County, Florida, where Hurst was employed. Hurst and the victim, assistant manager Cynthia Lee Harrison, were scheduled to work at 8 a.m. on the day of the murder. A worker at a nearby restaurant, Carl Hess, testified that he saw Harrison arriving at work between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Afterwards, Hess said that he saw a man, who was about six feet tall and weighed between 280 and 300 pounds, arrive at Popeye's and bang on the glass windows until he was let inside. The man was dressed in a Popeye's uniform and Hess recognized him as someone he had seen working at Popeye's. Shortly after the crime, Hess picked Hurst from a photographic lineup as the man he had seen banging on the windows. Hess was also able to identify Hurst at trial.
Popeye's was scheduled to open at 10:30 a.m. but Harrison and Hurst were the only employees scheduled to work at 8 a.m. However, at some point before opening, two other Popeye's employees arrived, in addition to the driver of the supply truck. None of them saw Hurst or his car. At 10:30 a.m., another Popeye's assistant manager, Tonya Crenshaw, arrived and found the two Popeye's employees and the truck driver waiting outside the locked restaurant.
The victim suffered a minimum of sixty incised slash and stab wounds, including severe wounds to the face, neck, back, torso, and arms. The victim also had blood stains on the knees of her pants, indicating that she had been kneeling in her blood. A forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Berkland, testified that some of the wounds cut through the tissue into the underlying bone, and while several wounds had the potential to be fatal, the victim probably would not have survived more than fifteen minutes after the wounds were inflicted. Dr. Berkland also testified that the victim's wounds were consistent with the use of a box cutter. A box cutter was found on a baker's rack close to the victim's body. Later testing showed that the box cutter had the victim's blood on it. It was not the type of box cutter that was used at Popeye's, but was similar to a box cutter that Hurst had been seen with several days before the crime.
Hurst's friend, Michael Williams, testified that Hurst admitted to him that he had killed Harrison....
Another of Hurst's friends, “Lee–Lee” Smith, testified that the night before the murder, Hurst said he was going to rob Popeye's. On the morning of the murder, Hurst came to Smith's house with a plastic container full of money from the Popeye's safe. Hurst instructed Smith to keep the money for him. Hurst said he had killed the victim and put her in the freezer. Smith washed Hurst's pants, which had blood on them, and threw away Hurst's socks and shoes. Later that morning, Smith and Hurst went to Wal–Mart to purchase a new pair of shoes. They also went to a pawn shop where Hurst saw some rings he liked, and after returning to Smith's house for the stolen money, Hurst returned to the shop and purchased the three rings for $300....
The police interviewed Smith and searched a garbage can in Smith's yard where they found a coin purse that contained

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