Florida has a long and checkered history with capital punishment, and the current laws surrounding it are complex. Here’s a few things you should know about capital punishment in Florida.
Capital punishment has a long history in human society, stretching back to Biblical references that informed the English common law. The death penalty in American law is a descendant of the practice in Europe, and was carried out in many states for decades after the colonies in America broke away to form the United States.
The death penalty was a staple in Florida law since the beginning of its statehood. The first major hurdle the practice ran into was the 1972 Supreme Court decision of Furman v. Georgia which banned capital punishment as running afoul of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Capital punishment was reinstated four years later, and since that time the state of Florida has become one of the country’s most prolific users of the practice.
In Florida, conviction of a capital felony has only two possible sentences:
life in prison without the possibility of parole.
If a person is convicted of a capital felony in Florida but the crime was committed before he or she was 18 years old, death is no longer available as a penalty. Instead, the court will have the option of a 40-year sentence as well as life in prison, and both are eligible for parole.
In Florida, the administration of the death penalty is quite involved. Upon receiving a sentence of death, the record of the trial is prepared and sent to the governor’s office and the Florida Supreme Court by the sheriff. The Supreme Court then certifies to the governor that the prisoner’s entire appeals process has been exhausted and the time for application of a writ of habeas corpus (and any due process related to such an application) is over.
When the governor receives the certification from the Supreme Court, he or she must issue a warrant for execution within thirty days. The governor’s office then attaches the warrant for execution to the trial record and sends it to the warden of the prison in which the prisoner resides.
Insanity and Pregnancy
Florida law specifies two main exceptions to the death penalty:
If a prisoner is believed to be insane, the governor is tasked with forming a committee of three psychologists to determine if the prisoner is actually insane. The commission then determines whether the defendant
understands the nature and effect of the death penalty and why it is to be imposed upon him or her
However, the commission’s report is merely an opinion that the governor may or may not agree with. Ultimately the governor must decide if the prisoner has the appropriate mental capacity and, if he or she does, must then order the death penalty to be carried out.
In the case of pregnancy, Florida law requires the governor to have the prisoner examined by a medical doctor, who will subsequently relay his diagnosis to the governor. The governor again has the sole discretion to determine whether or not the prisoner is pregnant, but if he decides that she is, he is obligated to issue a stay of execution until after the prisoner is no longer pregnant.