ⓘ Capital punishment in Florida. Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of Florida. Since 1976, the state has executed 99 convicted murderers, al ..


ⓘ Capital punishment in Florida

Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of Florida.

Since 1976, the state has executed 99 convicted murderers, all at Florida State Prison. As of February 4, 2020, 340 offenders are awaiting execution.


1. History

Florida performed its last pre- Furman execution in 1964 Sie Dawson. After the Supreme Court of the United States struck down all states death penalty procedures in the Furman v. Georgia ruling, essentially ruling the imposition of the death penalty at the same time as a guilty verdict unconstitutional, Florida was the first state to draft a newly written statute on August 12, 1972.

Florida performed the first involuntary execution after the Supreme Court, in the 1976 case Gregg v. Georgia, permitted the death penalty once more. John Arthur Spenkelink was electrocuted on May 25, 1979.

On January 24th, 1989, it executed notorious serial killer Ted Bundy.

The method of execution switched to lethal injection after the controversial electrocution of Allen Lee Davis in 1999.

On May 23, 2019, it executed serial rapist and murderer Bobby Joe Long after he was put on death row in 1984.

On August 22, 2019, it executed serial killer Gary Ray Bowles.


2. Capital crimes

In Florida, murder can be punished by death if it involves one of the following aggravating factors:

  • It was committed in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification.
  • It was committed by a criminal gang member.
  • It was committed while the defendant was engaged, or was an accomplice, in the commission of, or an attempt to commit a specified felony.
  • The defendant knowingly created a great risk of death to many persons.
  • It was committed for pecuniary gain.
  • The victim was particularly vulnerable due to advanced age or disability, or because the defendant stood in a position of familial or custodial authority over the victim.
  • It was committed by a person currently or formerly designated as a sexual predator.
  • It was committed by a person previously convicted of a felony, under sentence of imprisonment, placed on community control, or on felony probation.
  • The victim was a law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of his or her official duties.
  • It was committed by a person subject to a restrictive order or a foreign protection order, and was committed against the person who obtained the injunction or protection order or any spouse, child, sibling, or parent of this person.
  • The victim was a person less than 12 years of age.
  • It was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.
  • The defendant was previously convicted of another capital felony or of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to the person.
  • It was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or effecting an escape from custody.
  • The victim was an elected or appointed public official engaged in the performance of his or her official duties if the motive for the capital felony was related, in whole or in part, to the victim’s official capacity.
  • It was committed to disrupt or hinder the lawful exercise of any governmental function or the enforcement of laws.

A Florida statute also provides the death penalty for capital drug trafficking. A provision for capital sexual battery was found unconstitutional in the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case Kennedy v. Louisiana. No one is on death row in the United States for drug trafficking.


3. Legal process

On June 14, 2013, Governor Rick Scott signed the Timely Justice Act of 2013. The law is designed to overhaul and speed up the process of capital punishment. It creates tighter time frames for a person sentenced to death to make appeals and post-conviction motions and imposes reporting requirements on case progress.

In Hurst v. Florida January 2014, the United States Supreme Court struck down part of Floridas death penalty law, saying it was not sufficient for a judge to determine the aggravating facts to be used in considering a death sentence. Under Florida law, the jury made a recommendation to the judge, with a finding by majority vote, and the judge separately determined aggravating facts other than what the jury proposed. The Court ruled that Floridas law violated the Sixth Amendment guaranteeing a jury trial. It was unclear whether the ruling would apply retroactively to current condemned persons.

The Florida legislature passed a new statute to comply with the judgement in March 2014, and it also changed the sentencing method, requiring a 10 jurors supermajority to issue a sentence of death. If fewer than 10 jurors vote in favor of the death sentence, life imprisonment is imposed there is no hung jury nor retrial. Previously, the judge decided the sentence alone, and the jury gave only a non-binding advice. This was also challenged and in October 2014, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the law by a 5-2 vote, finding that death sentences can only be handed down by a unanimous jury.

In March 2017, the Florida legislature passed a new statute complying with the state supreme court holding that death sentences must be unanimous. It also provides that in case of a hung jury during the penalty phase of the trial, a life sentence is issued, even if a single juror opposed death there is no retrial.


4. Executions

Florida used public hanging under a local jurisdiction, overseen and performed by the sheriffs of the counties where the crimes took place. However, in 1923, the Florida Legislature passed a law replacing hanging with the electric chair and stated that all future execution will be performed under state jurisdiction inside prisons. The electric chair became a subject of strong controversy in the 1990s after three executions received considerable media attention and were labeled as "botched" by opponents. While most states switched to the lethal injection, many politicians in Florida opposed giving up "Old Sparky", seeing it as a "deterrent". Finally, after the Davis execution, lethal injection was enabled and became the default method. Inmates, however, may still choose electrocution.

In January 2014, Wayne Doty asked the state to carry out his death sentence by electric chair, becoming the first inmate to do so since electrocution became optional.

Today, the only execution chamber in Florida is located at Florida State Prison in Starke. When sentenced, male convicts who receive the death penalty are incarcerated at either Florida State Prison itself, or at Union Correctional Institution next door to Florida State Prison, while female convicts who are sentenced to death are incarcerated at Lowell Correctional Institution north of Ocala. Inmates are moved to the death row at Florida State Prison when their death warrant is signed.


5. Clemency

The Governor of Florida has the right to commute the death penalty, but only with positive recommendation of clemency from a Board, where he or she sits.

Between 1925 and 1965, 57 commutations were granted out of 268 cases. Since 1972, when the death penalty was re-instituted, only six commutations have been granted, all under the administration of Governor Bob Graham.

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