Lawmakers and advocates gathered in the Florida Capitol Tuesday to express their disappointment that a bill that would have eliminated the death penalty for capital murder will not receive a hearing during the 2020 session.
“Unfortunately, when it comes to implementation of the death penalty, Florida is leading the nation in a very, very bad way,” said Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat who represents part of Broward County and is sponsoring the legislation (SB 938).
Mark Elliot, executive director of Floridians for Alternative to the Death Penalty, noted that Florida has the second largest death row in the nation and that one in five new death sentences nationally came from Florida last year.
Capital felonies include serious crimes including murder, armed kidnapping, some forms of drug trafficking that bring penalties of life in prison or death.
The Florida Supreme Court, reversing its own precedent, recently ruled that a jury does not need to be unanimous to recommend a death sentence.
Farmer said he is worried that this ruling will lead more death sentences for innocent people.
In January, a Capitol building news conference highlighted the case of Clifford Williams, exonerated after more than 40 years on death row. Williams and his advocates are seeking monetary payment for the 43 years he lost in the prison system.
Rep. Dotie Joseph, a Democrat who represents part of Miami-Dade County, highlighted the financial burden of maintaining the death penalty in Florida, mostly for legal costs for state prosecutors and defendants during trials and lengthy appeals.
“As a lawyer, I understand the necessity of protecting people’s constitutional rights. You want to be sure before you deprive a person of their ultimate right — their right to life,” Joseph said.
“Because of the legal ramifications, that process extends for decades,” she added.
Rep. Joseph Geller, a Democrat who represents parts of Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, expressed his frustration with existing death penalty policies.
“You heard about 29 exonerations — a shocking number,” Geller said. “Twenty-nine times, the state of Florida said, ‘Execute this person. Oops.’ Three of those people are present today.”
He referred to Herman Lindsey, Ron Wright, and Clemente Aguirre — survivors of Florida’s Death Row who attended the press conference.