As stated earlier, a separate multi-step process exists between conviction and the imposition of the death penalty. After a defendant is found guilty of a capital offense subject to the death penalty, the first step is a second trial to determine whether death will be imposed. At this trial, the jury hears evidence concerning aggravators, circumstances that weigh toward death, and mitigators, which weigh in favor of mercy. The trial judge performs the next step by actually determining the sentence. Although the trial judge gives great weight to the jury recommendation, the trial judge is not bound by the jury’s recommendation.
A trial judge has more experience in both the criminal process and facts of crimes themselves. What the average person, inexperienced in crimes, thinks is incredibly significant or especially heinous, may not in balance be so significant or heinous. The cool reasoning of a judge also serves to counterbalance any overly inflammatory prosecution.
Then the trial judge must justify a sentence of death in writing. This step is necessary so that the sentence is open to judicial review to ensure that the issue of life or death was decided according to the rule of law.
The final safeguard before imposing death is that the Supreme Court of Florida must review all death sentences. The court reviews the sentence for proportionality to ensure that the application is not unreasonable or inappropriate when compared to other cases. Thus, the defendant has one last opportunity before a court of law to argue against the most severe and final of all punishments.