Duane Owen is scheduled to be executed in Florida on June 15, 2023. If it occurs, his execution will be the fourth execution in Florida this year, after a three year pause in executions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Owen was convicted in 1986 of crimes that occurred in 1984.

Mr. Owen’s attorneys have presented evidence that he is incompetent to be executed.  They argued it was error for the Florida courts to find that “the psychiatrists that only briefly examined Owen were more credible than the neuropsychologist who spent over 13 hours with Owen conducting interviews and testing.”  Gov. DeSantis, who initially granted a stay so that Mr. Owen could undergo psychiatric examination and appointed the examining psychiatrists who found him sane, dissolved the stay after three days.

Mr. Owen was sentenced to death for two separate crimes, and in both cases was sentenced by a non-unanimous jury (10-2). Florida allowed judges to issue death sentences based on recommendations from non-unanimous juries until a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case Hurst v. Florida held the practice unconstitutional.  Mr. Owen did not receive relief under that ruling after the Florida Supreme Court determined that the rule would not apply retroactively to 169 prisoners who had completed their direct appeals before 2002. Two of the three other men executed in Florida in 2023 were also sentenced by non-unanimous juries. 

Data on capital exonerations in states which allowed non-unanimous death sentences indicate that the practice increases the risk of wrongful convictions. One or more jurors had voted for life in more than 90% of the death-row exonerations in states that permitted judges to impose death sentences based on a jury’s non-unanimous sentencing recommendations or allowed them to override jury votes for life.

Gov. DeSantis, who has declared himself a candidate in the 2024 presidential election, recently signed a new bill into law that once again allows non-unanimous juries to sentence defendants to death, provided they unanimously find the existence of a statutory aggravating factor. The law allows a death sentence when at least 8 jurors vote in favor, making Florida “the state with the lowest threshold” for death in the nation, according to the New York Times.  


Read the brief from Mr. Owen’s attor­neys to the Florida Supreme Court here

Lianna Norman, Why did DeSantis ter­mi­nate Florida killer Duane Owen’s exe­cu­tion delay? The Palm Beach Post (May 30, 2023); Jim Saunders, Florida Supreme Court refus­es to halt Duane Owen exe­cu­tion, Palm Beach Post (June 5, 2023); Patricia Mazzei, DeSantis Signs Law Lowering Death Penalty Threshold in Florida, New York Times (Apr. 20, 2023); Anthony Izaguirre, DeSantis signs death penal­ty, crime bills as 2024 run looms, AP News (May 1, 2023); Maurice Chammah, How the Death Penalty is Returning to Presidential Politics, The Marshall Project (Apr. 222023).