On November 17, 2016, the Florida Supreme Court in another double murder case reduced two death sentences to life sentences on the ground of disproportionality. McCloud v. State
Under then-existing law, the jury recommended death sentences by a vote of 8-4. The trial court then conducted the actual sentencing proceeding. Concluding that the aggravating factors far outweighed the mitigating factors, the trial court sentenced McCloud to death for each murder.
On direct appeal, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that McCloud’s death sentences are disproportionate in light of the term-of-years sentences imposed against his codefendants and his lesser role in the crimes. On reaching this conclusion, the Florida Supreme Court abandoned its prior holding that the relative culpability of a codefendant is implicated only when the codefendant had been found guilty of the same degree of murder. (Here, one of the codefendants was found incompetent to be tried as well as intellectually disabled. The other three codefendants pleaded no contest to two counts of second-degree murder and testified against McCloud.). The Court observed: “[T]the acceptance of a plea agreement does not automatically mean that the codefendant was less culpable.” The Court noted, inter alia, that the jury made a special finding that McCloud was not the shooter of the victims and the trial court found that McCloud had not been the instigator of the crimes. It concluded: “Where factual findings clearly establish that the less culpable defendant is the only defendant receiving a death sentence, that error must be rectified.”