Florida

Florida

NEW RESOURCES: Most Recent DEATH ROW USA Report Now Available

The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's "Death Row USA" shows that the number of people on death row in the United States is continuing to slowly decline, falling to 3,242 as of October 1, 2010. In 2000, there were 3,682 inmates on death row.  Nationally, the racial composition of those on death row is 44% white, 42% black, and 12% Latino/Latina. California continues to have the largest death row population (714), followed by Florida (394) and Texas (322). Pennsylvania (220) and Alabama (204) complete the list of the states with the five largest death rows in the country.  California and Pennsylvania have not carried out an executiion in over five years.  Death Row USA is published quarterly by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The report contains the latest death row population figures, execution statistics, and an overview of recent legal developments related to capital punishment.

Federal Judge Finds Florida's Death Penalty Unconstitutional

On June 20, U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez declared Florida's death penalty unconstitutional because jurors are not required to make findings beyond a reasonable doubt on the aggravating factors that can increase a guilty defendant's sentence from life to death. The ruling mandates that defendants have a Sixth Amendment right to have all essential elements of proof in criminal cases found by a jury rather than by a judge.  Legal experts say the ruling could have an important impact on other death penalty cases in the state and may lead to stays of execution. In his ruling, Judge Martinez said that Florida's sentencing system violates the U.S. Supreme Court's holding in Ring v. Arizona (2002), which allowed judges to make the final sentencing choice between death and life but requires that jurors first determine whether a defendant is eligible for the death penalty. The ruling, which is subject to appeal, came in the case of Paul Evans, who may now get a new sentencing hearing. His murder conviction still stands.

BOOKS: Former Wall St. Lawyer Now Focuses on Death Row Inmates

Dale Recinella formerly worked as an attorney on large financial deals, including the building of a National Football League stadium. He also supported the death penalty.  But he now focuses on the needs of death row inmates and other prisoners in Florida.  His new book, entitled “Now I Walk on Death Row,” tells of his career transition and the reversal in his views on capital punishment.  Although he attributes his changes to his Catholic religious faith, he also came to see the practical problems with the death penalty: "All the studies show that life in prison without the possibility of parole is much cheaper than getting to an execution. The difference is who the money goes to. With life in prison, the money goes to corrections officers. With the death penalty, the money goes to lawyers on both sides. Correction officers' uniforms are much cheaper than Brooks Brother suits," he said.  As a volunteer chaplain, Recinella ministers on death row three days a week and gives religious education instruction at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Florida.

NEW RESOURCES: Most Recent DEATH ROW USA Report Now Available

The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's "Death Row USA" shows that the number of people on the death row in the United States is continuing to slowly decline, falling to 3,260 as of April 1, 2010. In 2000, there were 3,682 inmates on death row.  Nationally, the racial composition of those on death row is 44% white, 41% black, and 12% Latino/Latina. California continues to have the largest death row population (702), followed by Florida (398) and Texas (333). Pennsylvania (222) and Alabama (204) complete the list of the states with the five largest death rows in the country. Of those jurisdictions with more than 10 inmates on death row, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Texas have the largest percentage of minorities on death row--each has 69%.

Orange County Misconduct Scandal Costs Taxpayers $2.5 Million in Failed Capital Prosecution

The failed capital prosecution of Scott Dekraai for the worst mass murder in Orange County, California history has cost taxpayers more than $2.5 million—more than double the average cost of a California death-penalty case—and the pricetag for continuing investigations into official misconduct by the county district attorney's and sheriff's offices continues to rise. Unlike most capital cases, the costs were not primarily for the trial itself, but the product of a multi-year investigation and court hearings into decades-long abuses by Orange County law enforcement involving the deliberate misuse of jailhouse informants to obtain incriminating statements from targeted prisoners, including Dekraai. “The price of misconduct is steep,” said Seattle University criminal justice professor Peter Collins, an expert on death penalty costs. Dekraai pleaded guilty to eight counts of murder in May 2014, and in normal circumstances, the penalty phase of the case would have been completed later that year. However, for the past three years, the case has been dominated by the informant scandal. In May 2015, Judge Thomas Goethals disqualified the entire Orange County District Attorney's Office from involvement in the case after finding that prosecutors had engaged in widespread misconduct, failed to disclose the improper practices, and repeatedly lied to the court about it. Additional failures by the county sheriff's office to comply with court orders to produce records related to the scandal extended the length of the court's investigation, and ultimately led to the court barring the state from pursuing the death penalty. According to an analysis by the Southern California News Group, taxpayers had already spent more than $2.5 million on the case, not including costs incurred by the Orange County District Attorney's office—which said it did not track what it spent on the case—or by the state attorney general's office after it took over the case. Known costs include approximately $1 million for defense costs over the nearly six years the case has been pending; an estimated $743,000 in costs for court time and personnel; more than $370,000 in costs for a grand jury investigation; $290,000 in pretrial incarceration costs; and more than $100,000 for the county to provide legal representation to the sheriff's department during the investigation. In addition to prosecutor salaries and other prosecution costs, the $2.5 million estimate does not include the costs of the Orange County District Attorney's appeal of the order removing it from the case; any state money spent on the ongoing investigation into the county's informant abuses; nor the costs of a U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigation into the informant scandal. Dekraai is scheduled to be sentenced on September 22 to eight terms of life without parole. 

A Mid-Year Review: Halfway Through 2016, Execution Pace Remains at Historic Low

Six months into 2016, the pace of executions in the United States remains at the same level as the 24-year low set in 2015. Fourteen executions have been carried out so far this year in five states - Texas (6), Georgia (5), and one each in Alabama, Florida, and Missouri - while 23 other scheduled executions have been halted by stays or reprieves. States carried out 28 executions in 2015. Eight executions are currently scheduled for the second half of the year, with seven in Texas and one in Georgia. Death penalty cases in two states that have carried out executions this year - Alabama and Florida - as well as in Delaware, are in limbo as state courts decide the ramifications of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hurst v. Florida, which struck down Florida's death sentencing scheme. The Supreme Court also ruled in favor of death row prisoners in two other major cases this spring. The Court overturned the Georgia conviction of Timothy Foster because prosecutors unconstitutionally excluded blacks from the jury, and it directed state courts in Alabama and Mississippi to reconsider capital convictions in two other cases in which similar abuses have been alleged. The Court also ordered a new appeal for Terry Williams in Pennsylvania because of judicial bias in his earlier appeal. Executions also have been affected by the ongoing controversy concerning lethal injection. In May, Pfizer joined numerous other pharmaceutical companies in implementing sales and distribution restrictions to prevent states from using its products in executions. Two states - Louisiana and Arizona - have recently announced that they are unable to obtain lethal injection drugs and Arkansas' supply of the lethal injection drug midazolam expired on June 30.

Judge Rules Florida's New Death Penalty Law Violates Its State Constitution

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch (pictured) ruled on May 9 that Florida's new death sentencing law violates the state's constitution. Ruling in the case of Karon Gaiter, who is awaiting a capital trial, Judge Hirsch said new law's requirement that at least 10 jurors agree to the death penalty before a defendant can be sentenced to death violated Florida's constitutional requirement that all jury verdicts must be unanimous. "For the ultimate decisions made within the judicial branch of government—guilty or not guilty, life or death—majority rule is insufficient," Hirsch wrote. "We do ask, indeed we insist, that the decisions of capital juries be, in some sense, perfect; for they are, in some sense, final. We ask, indeed we insist, that they reflect the will of all rather than the will of the few or even of the many.... However outrageous a crime, however controversial a case, as Floridians and Americans we ... cannot accede, we will not accede, we have never acceded, to outcomes as to which no more can be said than that some jurors have spoken." Hirsch wrote that the state's previous death penalty statute, which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hurst v. Florida, did not raise this constitutional question because the jury's advisory penalty-phase sentencing recommendation "was, in effect, a straw poll" rather than a verdict. Hirsch's decision comes as the Florida Supreme Court considers how Hurst will affect the nearly 400 death row prisoners sentenced under the previous sentencing scheme. The Miami-Dade state's attorney's office said it would appeal Hirsch's ruling.

NEW VOICES: A Leader of Florida Federation of Young Republicans Calls for Re-examination of Death Penalty

Saying that if one is looking to identify "failed government programs ..., Florida's death penalty certainly fills the bill," Brian Empric (pictured), vice-chairman of the Florida Federation of Young Republicans, presents a conservative case against the death penalty. In a recent guest column for the Orlando Sentinel, Empric says that - as the Florida legislature weighs its response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hurst v. Florida - the state should halt all executions "[u]ntil the constitutionality of our sentencing process is satisfactorily addressed.... [M]ore important," he adds, "Floridians are being presented with a great opportunity to re-examine capital punishment." Empric argues that the death penalty conflicts with conservative pro-life values and that "it is impossible to square capital punishment with these views." He goes on to describe systemic problems in the administration of capital punishment that he believes violate conservative principles. He highlights the "prosecutorial misconduct, mistaken eyewitness testimony, and reliance on erroneous forensic testimonies" that has led to Florida's 26 death row exonerations - the most in the nation. "The human element in the process," he says, "assures us that the death penalty will never be entirely accurate, but when potentially innocent lives hang in the balance, we cannot accept anything less than perfection." He cites a study that found Florida could save at least $50 million by replacing the death penalty with life without parole, and notes that Jefferson County, "was forced to freeze employee raises and slash its library budget just to fund two capital cases." He calls the death penalty, "a government program that fails to achieve its intended objectives," and concludes, "It's an issue that should be of concern to conservatives and anyone committed to limited government and eliminating wasteful and ineffective government programs."

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