Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Gary Ray Bowles

Florida's Death Penalty

For a little more than three decades, the state of Florida has allowed the execution of criminals who have committed capital offenses, such as first-degree murder and capital drug trafficking. The decision to enact the death penalty has been highly controversial and has brought the subject to the forefront of state and national politics. However, few are actually aware of the history surrounding capital punishment in Florida, the law itself or the facts surrounding the death penalty.

According to Floridas Department of Corrections, the first inmate to be executed by Floridas electric chair was Frank Johnson in 1924. Over the next 40 years capital punishment continued to occur on a sporadic basis. However, during the early 1960s the constitutionality of capital punishment was attacked.

The Supreme Court of the United States decided that the death penalty was no longer an appropriate measure to be used against criminals. It was considered to be a form of cruel and unusual punishment, which violated the Eighth Amendment. Many of the statutes pertaining to the death penalty were invalidated, causing the nationwide suspension of the death penalty. Almost immediately, approximately 600 prisoners death sentences were reduced to life imprisonment across the country, 96 of them in Florida alone.

Deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu stated that advocates of the death penalty began to propose new statutes that would allow the death penalty to be carried out under certain circumstances. Florida was one of the first states to revise its statutes so that capital punishment could be reinstated. Eventually in 1976, after a 15-year suspension, Florida reenacted the death penalty. The first execution to take place in Florida following the capital punishment suspension took place in 1979.

Currently, Florida is one of 38 states that allow the death penalty. Ron Word of the Associated Press stated that since its reinstatement two women and 54 men have been executed, averaging 2.3 deaths per year. To date, there are approximately 385 inmates on death row awaiting execution. The latest statistics suggest that a majority of Floridas death row inmates are white. African-Americans and Latino-Americans are the second and third largest minority populations on death row.

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