Florida Death Penalty: Past, Present and Future

Florida death penalty has a lot of history from the legal process to the execution process. Here’s everything you need to know. Only a handful of people know this, but Florida law has been around since the beginning of time. Even though it officially started back in 1845, with the state of Florida built from many of its legal practices from England and English Law is very ancient. As of late, these legal practices are still a big part of Florida Law.

Does Florida Have the Death Penalty?

In short, yes. Florida is one of the 29 states that still have capital punishment as a legal sentence in the United States.

Ever since 1976, the state of Florida executed around 98 inmates. All executions in Florida are taken place at Florida State Prison. As of May 2019, there are still 340 inmates on Florida’s death row.

Florida Death Penalty History

In 1964, Florida executed Sie Dawson. Dawson was the last inmate to be executed prior to the Furman case.

After that, the United States Supreme Court stopped every state within the country due to the ruling in the Furman v. Georgia case. The ruling was essentially saying that the death penalty and a guilty verdict at the same exact time were unconstitutional.

However, the state of Florida was the first state in the United States to write a new statute on August 12, 1972.

Florida even went as far as to perform the very first involuntary execution after the Supreme Court ruling in Gregg v. Georgia. The outcome of that case allowed the death penalty once again. On May 25, 1979, John Arthur Spenkelink was electrocuted.

Then on January 24, 1989, the state of Florida executed the famous serial killer, Ted Bundy.

It was not until 1999 when the state of Florida stopped using the electric chair and switched over to using the lethal injection method. The state of Florida switched to the lethal injection because there was too much controversy over the electric chair when executing Allen Lee Davis.

Bobby Joe Long, a serial murderer, and rapist who was on death row since 1984, was finally executed on May 23, 2019.

Capital Punishment in Florida Crimes

The state of Florida has a handful of factors they will look at when deciding if the murder charge will be punished by death. The case will have to at least involve one of these following factors for the death penalty to be put on the table.

  • The murder was committed by a person that is either already a felon, serving a sentence in prison, on community control, or doing felony probation.
  • The person was once convicted of a previous capital felony.
  • The person knew the great risk of death to a group of people.
  • The person was attempting to commit a felony (these charges can include kidnapping, arson, aggravated child abuse, bombing).
  • The person was avoiding a lawful arrest or escaping from custody.
  • The person committed the crime for pecuniary gain.
  • The crime committed was cruel, atrocious, or heinous.
  • The crime committed disrupt governmental function or another lawful exercise.
  • The crime was calculated as cold or premeditated.
  • The victim of the crime was a law enforcement officer
  • The victim of the crime was an appointed or elected public official
  • The victim was under the age of 12 years old
  • The victim was vulnerable either by disability or age.
  • The crime was committed by a gang member
  • The crime was committed by a sexual predator
  • The crime was committed under a restrictive order.

However, the state of Florida has a statute that will also use the death penalty for capital drug trafficking. There are no inmates on death row for drug trafficking in the United States.  Unfortunately, there was a provision that was added in 2008 that states the capital sexual battery was unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court. This was due to the case of Kennedy v. Louisiana.

Death Penalty Legal Process

In June of 2013, Florida’s Governor Rick Scott officially signed the Timely Justice Act of 2013. The Timely Justice Act of 2013 was here to overhaul but speed up the entire capital punishment process. The Timely Justice Act of 2013 was going to tighten the time frame for the inmate on death row to go through their post-conviction motions and appeals. It also imposes a lot of reporting requirements for these case progresses.

In January of 2016, the case Hurst v. Florida went to the United States Supreme Court. The case knocked down a big part of Florida’s death penalty law. It was stated that there was not a competent judge that could determine the facts that should be considered when putting the death penalty on the table.

In Florida law, the jury can make the recommendation of the death penalty to the judge. However, the judge will need to determine if the case has any of the factors that is listed above other than what the juror states in their recommendation.

The United States Supreme Court ruled against the state of Florida. They said that the Florida law was in violation of the Sixth Amendment that guarantees a jury trial. At the time it was unclear if this ruling would halt all current executions.

In March of 2016, the Florida legislature issued a new statute that would be in compliant with this judgment. It was going to change how they do sentence. It was going to require that 10 jurors be for the death penalty. There could be no retrial or a hung jury.

While prior to this the judge would have to decide about the death penalty alone. This allows the jury to give non-binding advice. However, this statute was a challenge later in that year in October 2016. This is when the Florida Supreme Court struck down this statute 5-2. The findings were that the death penalty should only be handed out by a unanimous jury.

Then in March of 2017, the Florida state legislature passed yet again another new statute that was in compliant with the United States Supreme court that said the death penalty must be unanimous. There would be no retrial and if there was a hung jury, they would give the defendant a life sentence.

Florida Executions

For the longest time, Florida utilized public hangings. The public hangings were under the local jurisdiction. These executions were watched and performed by the local sheriff’s department for that county of where the crime was taken place.

Fast forward to 1923, this is when the state of Florida legislature pushed through a statute that would replace the public hangings with the very infamous electric chair. The statute stated that all executions from then on would now be performed under the state jurisdiction and not the local jurisdiction and they would need to be held inside the prison and not outside for the public to spectate.

In the 1990s, the electric chair executions started a big debate after the three executions received and an abnormal amount of media attention. They were on the news and labeled as botch executions. The three inmates’ executions that made the news were the following:

  • 1990: Jesse Tafero
  • 1997: Pedro Medina
  • 1999: Allen Lee Davis

Even though before this time, most of the states that had the death penalty moved over to the lethal injection method, the state of Florida could not give up “Old Sparky.” Politicians were highly opposed of letting “Old Sparky” go. They believed it was going to be deterrent. However, after the execution of Allen Lee Davis, lethal injection was officially the official method of execution in the state of Florida. But inmates will also could choose if they would rather be executed by “Old Sparky” as well.

Wayne Doty, in January of 2016, asked the state of Florida to execute him by using “Old Sparky.” Doty was the first death row inmate that requested to use the electric chair since it became a secondary option in the state of Florida.

As of today, all executions in the state of Florida takes place in the Florida State Prison. Florida State Prison is in Starke, Florida.

When a male death row inmate is placed in prison, they will either be held at Florida State Prison, or they may be next door at the Union Correctional Institution. When a female death row inmate is placed in prison, they will be held at Lowell Correctional Institution.

Florida Clemency Cases

In the state of Florida, the Governor has the power to commute the death penalty. The governor can only do this by a positive recommendation from the board.

Between the years of 1925 to 1965, 57 clemencies were granted out of the 268 cases they had. Then in 1972, when capital punishment was reinstated, only 6 clemency cases were granted. This was under Florida’s Governor Bob Graham.

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