Sentence Reversed As Jury Rendered Single Undifferentiated Death Recommendation

In Pangburn v. State, 661 So. 2d 1182, 1188 (Fla. 1995), the Court reversed the defendant's death sentence and remanded for a new penalty-phase proceeding because the jury rendered a single, undifferentiated death recommendation in a case where the defendant had been convicted of two counts of first-degree murder. The Court noted that Florida's capital-sentencing statute "clearly addresses the jury's advisory sentence as it pertains to a single murder," and that juries frequently render different recommendations for different counts. Id. at 1188 (citing 921.141(1), (2), Fla. Stat. (1991)). While the Court did not directly address the State's argument that the harmless-error rule should apply, the language of the opinion suggests that it does not. Pangburn speaks in absolute terms, holding that it "would undermine our sentencing procedure" to allow a jury to render a single recommendation in a case like this. Pangburn, 661 So. 2d at 1188. In Pangburn, the parties recognized the problem with the jury recommendation after it was rendered. Noting that it was impossible to determine whether the jury's seven-to-five death recommendation was for each murder or only one (and, if so, which one), the parties stipulated that the recommendation would be accepted as death for one of the murders and life for the other. 661 So. 2d at 1185. The defendant later attempted to withdraw from this stipulation, but the trial court refused to allow it. Id.