Monday, February 22, 2016

"Death Penality in the State of Florida "by Rita Lucey, ARCWP

I am going to speak first on what we already know, then what is happening and finally what we can do.
Capital punishment is legal in the U.S. in the state of Florida. Florida was the first state to reintroduce the death penalty after the Supreme Court of the United States struck down all statutes in the country in the 1972 Furman v. Georgia decision.  19 states and the District of Columbia do not have the death penalty

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida's death penalty law last month, the state was left with no  functioning capital punishment statue.   In an 8-1 ruling , only Justice Samuel Alito dissenting, the court found Florida's law  violated the Sixth Amendment,  part of the Bill of Rights related to criminal prosecutions,  because judges, not juries, make the final decision imposing the death sentence. (among the 31 states that allow death penalty only Alabama and Delaware do not require unanimous jury decisions and Delaware's law is under review.  Alabama requires a 10-2 vote and only Florida has a 7-5 majority rule. 
All the  way back to 2005 the Florida Supreme Court suggested that there should be a unanimity rule on jurors but our Legislature has ignored this judicial warning for 10 years.  Now these, our elected legislators, are thrown into a tizzy! Trying to come up with and pass a law that will allow the scheduled executions to continue.  The Florida Senate favors  unanimity, which is all jurors voting for the death penalty,  the logical way to go. Most polls suggest  Floridians don't want the death penalty at all according to the Miami Herald
Right now, there are 40 or more cases in active appeal according to the Miami Herald in which the death penalty can no longer apply.  And an article in the Orlando Sentinel adds that the Florida court already heard arguments in the Michael Lambrix case, originally scheduled for execution in March, but hasn't yet decided on whether the latest U.S. Supreme Court decision applies retroactively.  If it does, nearly every Death Row inmate, now at 393, would have a new avenue for appeal.

30 sates have not carried out an execution  in several years
Only 2% of all counties in the U.S. Are responsible for over 50% of all executions since 1976****
156 innocent people have been freed from death row. 
Florida has had 92 Exeutions since 1976
And we continue to be the first in the nation.  The first in Exonerations  at 26, more than Texas or Louisiana
 And as Mark Elliot of Floridians for Alternative to the Death Penalty says “a person who has been wrongly put to death cannot be exonerated!  He goes on to say that “Killing locked up people is too dangerous, too expensive, and absolutely unnecessary”

 Governor Scott  has signed more death warrants than any of his predecessors
Also of note, and this is important, important because it is little known, 
In Duval County Florida, (Jacksonville) an elected public defender fired respected senior capital litigators in 2009  and installed as deputy chief and head of homicide defense a lawyer, Refik Eler, who has at least 8 former clients on death row – the most of any lawyer in Florida.  Eler has already been found ineffective by the Florida Supreme Court in three capital cases for failing to investigate both guilt and penalty issues  according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

While the use of the death penalty in the United States has been steadily declining in recent years it is now largely isolated to a handful of state which actively use it.
Despite this diminished use, the flaws and failures of the death penalty are more apparent than ever. There is still racism in the application of the death sentence.  Inadequate support services are given to the  families of victims as well as for prison workers who carry out the execution. According to Equal Justice USA executions traumatize corrections and government officials.  “Every execution requires a team of workers who watch the inmate in the final days, who strap the inmate to the gurney, who insert and often reinsert te needles, and who remove the body after the execution.  Corrections officials haunted by the experience of putting people to death have committed suicide, turned to alcohol, or suffered mental and physical health problems.
“Sometimes I wonder whether people really understand what goes on down here and the effect it has on us.  Here is what some have to say:
Many of us who  take part in this process live with nightmares
For me, those nights that weren't sleepless were plagued by nightmares.
There are many quotes of this nature

Executions also Traumatize clergy, jurors, and journalists  who report
symptoms of anxiety, nausea, and nightmares among those who recently witnessed an execution

And a new set of victims is created among family members of the condemned who watch  - the stories told by the mothers who saw their sons being put to death “Some would just wail out crying.  It's a sound you'll never hear any place else, an awful sound that sticks with you “ says Jim Willet, former warden, Huntsville Tx who oversaw 89 executions

Some current presidential candidates have announced their opposition to the death penalty and more have pointed to the numerous problems with it according to the National Coalition to abolish  death penality  
Jeb Bush says “I have to admit that I'm conflicted about this  As governor he  signed 21 death warrants. As governor he voted  to accelerate the appeal process and increased the number of executions. This would be in opposition to the Catholic church's stand on the death penalty and Jeb does claim to be Catholic.
Hillary Clinton 's opinion has shifted over the years.  As a lawyer in AK  she defended people on death row and was an opponent.  As First Lady she voiced support for the death penalty but recently she began to qualify her support and how frequently it is applied
Ted Cruz is a passionate supporter of the death penalty  During his legal career he argued in favor of the death penalty in front of the Supreme Court five times
Marco Rubio says “ protracted legal battles in death penalty cases hinder justice for the victims and erode public confidence  He advocates for an increase in the pace of executions
Bernie Sanders opposes the death penalty and always has.  “The state itself, in a democratic, civilized society, should itself not be involved in the murder of other Americans.
And Donald Trump, just as we would expect  :” I have always been a big believer, and continue to be, of the death penalty for horrendous crime”  (  He paid for an ad in NYT when a teenager was on trial for murder- that called for the death penalty.  The teen was later cleared by DNA after serving 13 years on death row) 
Charley Wells, a retired justice of the Florida Supreme Court from 1992 to 2009 and as chief justice 2000-02   argues that in Florida, the appeals procedures mean that inmates can be on death row for up to 30 years, and says “for such long periods this is cruel punishment”  He recommends that if the death penalty will not be executed within the next two years, the sentence be commuted to life, and the prisoner removed from death row restrictions.  He goes on to say “this is not only the right thing to do ; it will save tax money, which can then be used for beneficial services, some of which may prevent some person from becoming a death row inmate.”
MVFR, Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation is  an organization and a community led by family members of murder victims and the executed that advocates for ending and replacing the death penalty. Understanding that victim families are on a spectrum of recovery, MVFR identifies, engages and mobilizes its members to build communities of support that educate the public on the harms of the death penalty, the true needs of the victim families and the transformative power of restorative justice. MVFR works with a variety of individuals and organizations that share a commitments to build a safer society and heal the damage caused by violence.  One of the questions asked by a member  “ Do two wrongs make a right.  If my child is murdered must I seek the murder of another?”  The director of MVFR is Dr. Jack Sullivan whose sister Jennifer was murdered in Cleveland in 1997, a crime which remains unsolved.
“On behalf of thousands who have lost loved ones to murder, myself included, I rise to say to our elected officials that murdering those who were convicted does not bring us closure, does not produce healing....
Their  Mantra: We do our job best when we create space for our members' stories and voices to be heard.

Most recently the Florida house thinks it found a fix for a law on the death penalty so that executions can resume.  The House voted 93-20 Thursday, February 18, for a compromise bill aimed at restoring the law, the same law that  was struck down last month  by the U.S. Supreme Court??  The bill HB 7101 would require juries to unanimously find an aggravating factor, whatever that means,   that warrants death and then vote by a least 10-2 to impose the sentence. This bill does however, leave the decision of death sentence in the hands of the jury taking away the power of the judges to impose the  penalty.
It is the opinion of many in the justice system that a law must require juror's unanimity in death penalties. Common sense suggest according to the Miami Herald that if the new statute lacks this crucial rule, the nation's highest court will turn thumbs down again on the Florida death penalty statute.
 In the meantime Gov Scott has ordered that Mark Asay be executed on Mar 17.

Finally a voice of reason within the Florida Republican party
Saying that if one is looking to identify "failed government programs ..., Florida's death penalty certainly fills the bill," Brian Empric , 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 every voterA description...

And what can we do as concerned citizens.

Call Gov Scott's office

850 488 7146

Send a letter to Gov Scott

Call your local representatives, house and Senate.

Only by making our voices heard can we be the change we want to see.

A copy of my letter to Scott is available at the door for those who might want to use it as a basis.  Be aware that if you choose to e mail our Governor it becomes a public record on the internet  - it is therefore my choice to use postal correspondence.


Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, Fl. 32399-0001

Dear Governor Scott

As a citizen of Florida  with a deep conviction  of the sacredness of all life, I strongly urge you to declare a moratorium  on death penalty executions.  Of the 142 death row inmates found not guilty nationwide, that is exonerated,  Florida leads the nation with 26 exonerations.

This is more than any other state in the union according to articles by the American Bar Association, the National Death Penalty Information Center and Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. .  Would these facts alone not point to the need for a moratorium for those already waiting execution? 

I wonder, has DNA evidence been used in all cases to eliminate the possibility that innocents may be facing death?  According to the Death Penalty Information Center some 27 innocents were put to death and later found not guilty.  Appalling!!  Is this not murder by the states?  What else can we call it? 

No matter what one’s position on the morality of the death penalty, we can all agree it is a tragedy if an innocent person is executed.  The American Bar Association called for a moratorium in 1997.  It cites “serious problems with the administration of capital punishment across the country.”  And now the Supreme Court finds Florida’s death penalty unconstitutional!

Governor Scott I urge you to seriously consider a moratorium on executions in the name of all that speaks to “liberty and justice for all”


1 comment:

Rea Howarth said...

Thanks for a thoroughly researched, compelling post on the problems associated with the death penalty and its application in Florida .