Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of Florida.
Since 1976, the state has executed 93 convicted murderers, all at Florida State Prison. As of March 3, 2017, 382 offenders are awaiting execution.
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.
In 1989, it executed notorious serial killer Ted Bundy.
In Florida, murder can be punished by death if it involves one of the following aggravating factors:
- It was committed by a person previously convicted of a felony, under sentence of imprisonment, placed on community control, or on felony probation.
- The defendant was previously convicted of another capital felony or of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to the person.
- The defendant knowingly created a great risk of death to many persons.
- It was committed while the defendant was engaged, or was an accomplice, in the commission of, or an attempt to commit a specified felony (such as aggravated child abuse, arson, kidnapping, placing or discharging of a destructive device or bomb).
- It was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or effecting an escape from custody.
- It was committed for pecuniary gain.
- It was committed to disrupt or hinder the lawful exercise of any governmental function or the enforcement of laws.
- It was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.
- It was committed in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification.
- The victim was a law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of his or her official duties.
- 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.
- The victim was a person less than 12 years of age.
- 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 criminal gang member.
- It was committed by a person currently or formerly designated as a sexual predator.
- It was committed by a person subject to an 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.
Florida statutes also provide the death penalty for capital drug trafficking and capital sexual battery, but the death penalty for the latter crime is no longer constitutional since the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case Kennedy v. Louisiana. No one is on death row in the United States for drug trafficking.
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 2016), the United States Supreme Court struck down part of Florida's 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 Florida's law violated the Sixth Amendment guaranteeing a jury trial. It was unclear whether the ruling would apply retroactively to current condemned men.
The Florida legislature passed a new statute to comply with the judgement in March 2016, 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 new sentencing scheme was also struck down, however, the Florida Supreme Court ruling 5-2 in October 2016 that a death sentence must be issued by an unanimous jury. The Court ruled that the law "cannot be applied to pending prosecutions" which means that until the Florida legislature acts, there is no procedure or law allowsing a prosecutor to seek the death penalty; it leaves open, however, the status of sentences passed under the twice-struck down provisions. On the same, the Court granted Hurst a new sentencing hearing following the US Supreme Court decision in January.
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 (Jesse Tafero in 1990, Pedro Medina in 1997, and Allen Lee Davis in 1999). 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, though none have chosen this method since the Davis execution.
In January 2016 Wayne Doty, 42, has asked the state to carry out his death sentence by electric chair. The Plant City man was serving a life sentence on a first-degree murder conviction when he killed another inmate. Doty pleaded guilty to the second offense and represented himself in court. The sentence handed down in 2013 was death.
Today, the only execution chamber in Florida is located at Florida State Prison in Raiford. 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.
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.
Death row inmates
Total Inmates on death row: 412