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Lawmakers in Florida have passed a new bill that would expand the state’s use of the death penalty for those convicted of sexually abusing children. The legislation, with Governor Ron DeSantis’s support, was passed with a bipartisan vote of 34-5 on Tuesday. Under the new law, juries will be allowed to impose the death penalty with a vote of at least 8-4, instead of requiring a unanimous decision as previously mandated. The bill, which the Florida House of Representatives formerly passed with a vote of 95-14, applies to individuals convicted of sexually abusing a child under the age of 12. It is expected to be signed into law by Governor DeSantis soon.

While most of us can agree that sexually based offenses, specifically when children are involved, are some of the most heinous crimes that one can commit. Child sex abuse crimes, in particular, require quick and swift justice. Is the death penalty the answer to these crimes? Is the death penalty the answer to any crime? 

The death penalty has been a controversial topic in the United States for many years, and Florida is no exception. Florida is one of 27 states with the death penalty as a legal punishment for certain crimes. 

What is the Death Penalty?

The death penalty, also known as capital punishment, is a legal punishment that results in a convicted person being sentenced to death. This punishment is typically reserved for individuals found guilty of committing particularly heinous crimes, such as murder. The death penalty has been a part of the United States legal system for centuries, with the first execution in the early 1600s.

In Florida, the death penalty is reserved for individuals convicted of first-degree murder. First-degree murder is defined as the premeditated, intentional killing of another person. In addition to premeditated murder, certain circumstances can also elevate a murder charge to first-degree, such as murder committed during the commission of another felony.

Current Laws Surrounding the Death Penalty in Florida

Florida has several laws surrounding the death penalty, including laws related to the types of crimes for which the death penalty can be applied, the process for imposing the death penalty, and the appeals process for individuals who have been sentenced to death.

Types of Crimes Eligible for the Death Penalty

As previously mentioned, the death penalty in Florida is reserved for individuals convicted of certain crimes only. These crimes include:

  • First-Degree Murder: This includes premeditated murder and murder committed during the commission of another felony.
  • Felony Murder: In certain circumstances, individuals who commit other felonies that result in someone’s death can also be eligible for the death penalty. For example, if an individual commits a robbery and unintentionally kills someone during the crime, they may be eligible for the death penalty.
  • Killing of a Law Enforcement Officer, Judge, or State Attorney: Individuals who are convicted of killing a law enforcement officer, judge, or state attorney can also be eligible for the death penalty in Florida. This is considered a capital offense, even if the underlying crime is not first-degree murder.
  • Treason: In rare cases, individuals convicted of treason can also be eligible for the death penalty. This is a federal offense and is not specific to Florida law.

And now we can expect to add the sexual abuse of someone under 12 to the list. 

Process for Imposing the Death Penalty

The process for imposing the death penalty in Florida is complex and involves several stages. The first stage is the guilt phase, in which the jury determines whether the defendant is guilty of the crime they have been charged with. The case moves on to the penalty phase if the defendant is found guilty.

During the penalty phase, the jury considers aggravating and mitigating factors related to the crime and the defendant. Aggravating factors are circumstances that make the crime more heinous, such as using a weapon or the victim’s age. Mitigating factors are circumstances that may reduce the defendant’s culpability, such as their age or mental health status.

If the jury determines that aggravating factors outweigh mitigating factors, the defendant may be sentenced to death. However, the final decision regarding the imposition of the death penalty rests with the judge, who may override the jury’s recommendation.

Appeals Process

In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled in Martinez V Ryan that prisoners can access a new trial in federal Court where they have had ineffective legal counsel. On Monday, May 23rd, 2022, the Supreme Court barred federal courts from hearing new evidence that was not previously presented in a state court due to the defendant’s inadequate legal representation. This means there is little lifeline left for those wrongly convicted or with ineffective counsel.

Now with the new ruling, it will make it much harder, if not impossible, to overturn a verdict. Often the goal isn’t to exonerate the prisoner but to lessen the sentencing. With less wiggle room, we can expect to see an increase in executions from this ruling.

One of the main controversies surrounding the death penalty in Florida is the issue of wrongful convictions. In recent years, there have been several cases in which individuals on death row were later found to be innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted. These cases have raised concerns about the reliability of the criminal justice system and the potential for innocent people to be put to death. 

Exonerations 

One of the scariest things about the death penalty is sentencing someone to death that was actually innocent. Since 1972 over 15,000 Americans have been executed, and 190 of them were later exonerated. Approximately 11% of all people executed in America are estimated to be innocent. Should there be ANY margin of error regarding the death penalty? Some jobs don’t have the wiggle room to get something wrong, and deciding on the death penalty is one of those situations. In cases of death sentences, it has been challenging to get those judgments overturned. Meaning once you get the death penalty, that sentence will likely never change, so if someone is falsely convicted, they are not likely to find the justice they deserve. 

If states are implementing the death penalty, they need to ensure that that person was sentenced correctly. Casey Anthony just released a new tell-all documentary explaining that she was innocent and that her father murdered her child Caylee. Anthony’s case was a massive case across the country that caused outrage. Anthony was facing the death penalty at her trial. Whether you believe her or not, it is evident that the jury and the people are polarized. Anthony was found not guilty and many believe she is guilty. If she were found guilty, I would be curious to know her end sentence. Many cases are simply that convoluted. You can see in this example how errors can occur. 

Issues with Floridas Death Penalty

There are several ongoing issues with Florida’s death penalty system, including concerns about its effectiveness as a punishment for heinous crimes, the high costs associated with its implementation, and the potential for wrongful convictions and exonerations. Critics argue that the death penalty fails to serve as a proper deterrent to crime and is often applied unfairly, with significant racial and socioeconomic disparities in its use.

Additionally, the lengthy appeals process and high costs associated with capital cases have led some to question the practicality of the death penalty, while a number of exonerations in recent years have raised concerns about the reliability and accuracy of the state’s criminal justice system.

  • When a Prisoner Prefers or Requests the Death Penalty

One issue with the death penalty is that some inmates on death row would prefer to be put to death versus sitting on death row or getting life in prison. The punishment should fit the crime, but what happens when you give the criminal the desired punishment? Is it really punishment at that point? Some believe that putting someone to death essentially exonerates them from their pain and suffering by ending their life. The example of what occurred to Nikolas Cruz highlights the issues with Florida’s death penalty. 

  • Nikolas Cruz

Nikolas Cruz otherwise known as the Parkland Shooter committed mass murder in 2018 when he gun downed several students at Parkland Highschool in Florida. It was one of the most henious mass shootings in years and is an extremely well-known and note-worthy case. If there was any time to use the death penalty, by public opinion it seemed that Cruz would be eligible. Rather than receiving the death penalty Cruz received life without parole. Cruz was charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. However, if he was sentenced to death Cruz would have been the youngest and most destructive inmate on death row in Florida’s history. So why did someone who did so much damage escape death row? 

I think it is safe to say that most people committing murder and other heinous crimes, including crimes against children and sexual assault, have some issues with mental health. Cruz would be a prime example if there were any time to utilize the death penalty. If Florida is not consistent, it should not have the death penalty. The United States judicial system is supposedly built on fairness and swift, accurate justice. If a system in place cannot be fair or accurate, we should not have it at all. 

  • The Cost 

It costs Florida more to uphold the death penalty ruling than life in prison. The Palm Beach Post estimates it costs Florida 51 million more dollars a year to execute death row sentences than the ladder of life in prison. This is an astounding number. On average, someone on death row will wait for 19.6 years before being executed. In that time, you have to consider housing costs, staff costs, and the cost of appeals. 

Quick Facts About Floridas Death Penalty 

  • The death penalty is legal in Florida and is reserved for individuals convicted of first-degree murder.
  • Florida is one of 27 states that currently have the death penalty.
  • The electric chair was the primary method of execution in Florida until 2000 when lethal injection became an alternative method.
  • Florida has one of the largest death row populations in the United States.
  • The state has carried out more than 90 executions since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.
  • Florida is known for its strict sentencing laws, including mandatory minimum sentences and the use of the “felony murder rule.”
  • In recent years, there have been concerns about the reliability of the criminal justice system and the potential for wrongful convictions.
  • Florida has implemented a number of reforms aimed at improving the reliability and fairness of the death penalty, including changes to the way evidence is handled and presented in death penalty cases.
  • The use of the death penalty in Florida remains a controversial topic, with ongoing debates about its effectiveness and morality.

 A History of Capital Punishment in Florida 

The history of the death penalty in Florida is a long and complex one that dates back to the early days of the state’s legal system. While the use of the death penalty in Florida has been a controversial topic throughout its history, the state has remained one of the most active in terms of carrying out executions.

Early History

The use of the death penalty in Florida dates back to the territorial period when Florida was still a part of the Spanish Empire. During this time, executions were carried out using hanging and firing squad methods. However, when Florida became a part of the United States in 1821, the death penalty was temporarily abolished.

The death penalty was reinstated in Florida in 1846, and hanging became the primary method of execution. However, as the state’s population grew, concerns arose about the reliability and humaneness of hanging as a method of execution.

Modern Era

In 1923, the state of Florida adopted the electric chair as its method of execution, and it remained the primary method until 2000. During this time, Florida became known for its high rate of executions, with more than 500 people being put to death between 1924 and 1976.

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, and Florida was one of the first states to revise its laws to comply with the Court’s ruling. Under the revised laws, the death penalty was limited to cases of first-degree murder, and a separate penalty phase was added to determine whether the death penalty was appropriate in a given case.

In 2000, concerns arose about the reliability of the electric chair as a method of execution, and the state of Florida revised its laws to allow for lethal injection as an alternative method. However, despite the new method, concerns have persisted about the humaneness and reliability of the death penalty in Florida.

Controversies and Reforms

Throughout its history, the use of the death penalty in Florida has been the subject of ongoing debates and controversies. One of the main issues has been concerns about wrongful convictions and the potential for innocent people to be put to death.

In recent years, several high-profile cases have raised concerns about the reliability of the state’s criminal justice system, including the case of Juan Melendez, who was released from death row in 2002 after 17 years in prison when new evidence emerged that proved his innocence.

In response to these concerns, the state of Florida has implemented several reforms to improve the reliability and fairness of the death penalty. These reforms have included changes to how evidence is handled and presented in death penalty cases and improvements to the quality of legal representation provided to defendants.

Despite these reforms, however, concerns about using the death penalty in Florida persist, and the state remains one of the most active in carrying out executions. As the debate over the use of the death penalty continues, it remains to be seen what the future holds for this controversial practice in Florida and throughout the United States.

Final Thoughts

The death penalty is a deeply divisive issue that often sparks passionate debate. For some, it represents a just punishment for heinous crimes, while for others, it is a morally bankrupt and outdated practice that has no place in a civilized society. After all, if killing another person is generally considered immoral, what makes it right simply because we do it collectively as a form of societal judgment? These complex ethical questions force us to examine our own moral and value systems and, ultimately, to decide where we stand on one of the most controversial issues of our time.

About The Author

Julie Johansson

Educated in Criminal Justice and a true crime junkie. Former mall cop, fur mom and women's rights advocate. I am trying to engage in more important topics and writing is how I connect with my community and the world.

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