Capital punishment in Florida

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The execution chamber in Florida State Prison.

Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of Florida.

Since 1976, the state has executed 104 convicted murderers, all at Florida State Prison.[1] As of September 6, 2023, 292 offenders are awaiting execution.[2]


Ted Bundy, executed in 1989

Florida performed its last pre-Furman execution in 1964. After the Supreme Court of the United States struck down all states' death penalty procedures in Furman v. Georgia (1972), essentially ruling the imposition of the death penalty at the same time as a guilty verdict unconstitutional, Florida was the first state to draft a newly written statute on August 12, 1972.[3] After the Supreme Court permitted the death penalty once more in Gregg v. Georgia (1976), the state electrocuted John Arthur Spenkelink on May 25, 1979, which was the second execution in the U.S. since 1967, after that of Gary Gilmore on January 17, 1977, in Utah.[4]

Capital crimes[edit]

In Florida, murder can be punished by death if it involves one of the following aggravating factors:[5]

  1. It was committed by a person previously convicted of a felony and under sentence of imprisonment, placed on community control, or on felony probation.
  2. The defendant was previously convicted of another capital felony or of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to the person.
  3. The defendant knowingly created a great risk of death to many persons.
  4. It was committed while the defendant was engaged, or was an accomplice, in the commission of, or an attempt to commit a specified felony (such as aggravated child abuse, arson, kidnapping, placing or discharging of a destructive device or bomb).
  5. It was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or effecting an escape from custody.
  6. It was committed for pecuniary [financial] gain.
  7. It was committed to disrupt or hinder the lawful exercise of any governmental function or the enforcement of laws.
  8. It was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.
  9. It was committed in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification.
  10. The victim was a law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of his or her official duties.
  11. The victim was an elected or appointed public official engaged in the performance of his or her official duties if the motive for the capital felony was related, in whole or in part, to the victim’s official capacity.
  12. The victim was a person less than 12 years of age.
  13. The victim was particularly vulnerable due to advanced age or disability, or because the defendant stood in a position of familial or custodial authority over the victim.
  14. It was committed by a criminal gang member.
  15. It was committed by a person currently or formerly designated as a sexual predator.
  16. It was committed by a person subject to a restrictive order or a foreign protection order, and was committed against the person who obtained the injunction or protection order or any spouse, child, sibling, or parent of this person.

Florida statute also provides the death penalty for capital drug trafficking and discharging or using a destructive device causing death. A provision for capital sexual battery was found unconstitutional in the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case Kennedy v. Louisiana. No one is on death row in the United States for drug trafficking.

In May 2023, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that allows the death penalty for defendants convicted of child rape. Since the law contradicts the Kennedy v. Louisiana ruling, it will likely be challenged in the courts.[6][7][8][9][10]

Legal process[edit]


In Hurst v. Florida (2014), the United States Supreme Court struck down part of Florida's death penalty law, holding it was not sufficient for a judge to determine the aggravating facts to be used in considering a death sentence. The court ruled that this trial process violated the Sixth Amendment right to jury trial under Ring v. Arizona (2002).[11][12] This was later held to benefit only to defendants sentenced by a non-unanimous jury from 2002 to 2014.[13]


When the prosecution seeks the death penalty, the jury must unanimously find that an aggravating factor found by the prosecution exists, making the defendant eligible for a death sentence. Once this eligibility is established, a supermajority of at least 8 jurors must concur that the established aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors for a recommendation for a death sentence. Should less than eight jurors find that the aggravating factors do not outweigh the mitigating factors, the jury's recommendation shall be a life sentence which shall be the sentence imposed by the trial judge (there is no retrial). Should the jury make a recommendation for a sentence of death, the trial judge shall have the discretion to determine whether a death or life sentence shall be imposed; the trial judge must justify his or her reasoning in a written order.[14][15]

Prior to 2014, the judge decided the sentence alone, and the jury gave only a non-binding advice.[16] In March 2014, the Florida Legislature provided a 10-juror supermajority to issue a sentence of death.[17] This was also challenged and in October 2014, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the law, finding that death sentences can only be handed down by a unanimous jury.[18]

On April 20, 2023, Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 450 that eliminated the unanimous jury requirement, replacing it with a supermajority of at least eight of twelve jurors. The law went into effect the date it was signed: April 20, 2023. This followed DeSantis' call for an end to the unanimity requirement.[19][20][21]


On June 14, 2013, Governor Rick Scott signed the Timely Justice Act of 2013. The law is designed to overhaul and speed up the process of capital punishment. It creates tighter time frames for a person sentenced to death to make appeals and post-conviction motions and imposes reporting requirements on case progress.[22]


New electric chair installed in 1999 at the Florida State Prison near Starke, Florida.

Death sentences are carried out via lethal injection. However, the sentence can be carried out by electrocution if the offender requests it.[23] If lethal injection or electrocution is held unconstitutional, statutes authorize the use of "any constitutional method of execution" instead.[24]

The only execution chamber in Florida is located at Florida State Prison in Starke. When sentenced, male convicts who receive the death penalty are incarcerated at either Florida State Prison itself, or at Union Correctional Institution next door to Florida State Prison, while female convicts who are sentenced to death are incarcerated at Lowell Correctional Institution north of Ocala. Inmates are moved to the death row at Florida State Prison when their death warrant is signed.

Florida used public hanging under a local jurisdiction, overseen and performed by the sheriffs of the counties where the crimes took place. However, in 1923, the Florida Legislature passed a law replacing hanging with the electric chair and stated that all future execution will be performed under state jurisdiction inside prisons.[25][26] The electric chair became a subject of strong controversy in the 1990s after three executions received considerable media attention and were labeled as "botched" by opponents (Jesse Tafero in 1990, Pedro Medina in 1997, and Allen Lee Davis in 1999). While most states switched to the lethal injection, many politicians in Florida opposed giving up "Old Sparky", seeing it as a "deterrent".[27] Finally, after the Davis execution, lethal injection was enabled as the default method.[28]

During Governor Rick Scott's tenure (2011-2019), Florida executed more inmates (28) than had been executed under any other governor in the state's history.[29][30]


The Governor of Florida has the right to commute the death penalty, but only with positive recommendation of clemency from a Board, where they sit.[31]

Between 1925 and 1965, 57 commutations were granted out of 268 cases.[32] Since 1972, when the death penalty was re-instituted, only six commutations have been granted, all under the administration of Governor Bob Graham.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Florida Department of Corrections. "Execution List - Florida Department of Corrections". Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  2. ^ "Death Row Roster". Retrieved January 24, 2017.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 23, 2015. Retrieved 2015-06-15.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ "Nation: At Issue: Crime and Punishment". Time. June 4, 1979. Archived from the original on January 19, 2008.
  5. ^ Florida Statutes § 921.141
  6. ^ "DeSantis signs law allowing death penalty for child rape, defying US Supreme Court ruling". USA TODAY. Retrieved May 2, 2023.
  7. ^ Ray, Siladitya. "DeSantis Signs New Death Penalty Bill—Setting Up Possible Supreme Court Clash". Forbes. Retrieved May 2, 2023.
  8. ^ "DeSantis expands Florida death penalty law, defying U.S. Supreme Court". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved May 2, 2023.
  9. ^ Maher, Kit (May 1, 2023). "DeSantis signs bill making child rapists eligible for death penalty at odds with US Supreme Court ruling | CNN Politics". CNN. Retrieved May 2, 2023.
  10. ^ "Florida Gov. DeSantis signs bill allowing death sentence for child rape". May 7, 2023. Archived from the original on May 7, 2023. Retrieved May 12, 2023.
  11. ^ Alvarez, Lizette (February 2, 2016). "Supreme Court Ruling Has Florida Scrambling to Fix Death Penalty Law". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 2, 2023.
  12. ^ ADAM LIPTAK, "Supreme Court Strikes Down Part of Florida Death Penalty", The New York Times, January 12, 2016, accessed February 3, 2016
  13. ^ Howe, Amy (November 13, 2018). "Court adds two new cases to merits docket". SCOTUSblog. Retrieved November 13, 2018.
  14. ^ Clifford, Tyler (April 20, 2023). "DeSantis signs bill to lower bar on death sentence in Florida". Reuters. Retrieved April 23, 2023.
  15. ^ "Florida Legislature Rescinds Unanimous-Jury Requirement in Death Sentencing". Death Penalty Information Center. Retrieved April 23, 2023.
  16. ^ "HB 7101". Florida state senate. Retrieved March 15, 2014.
  17. ^ Berman, Mark (March 7, 2016). "Florida death penalty officially revamped after Supreme Court struck it down". Washington Post. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
  18. ^ Klas, Mary Ellen; Ovalle, David (October 14, 2014). "Court again tosses state death penalty; ruling raises bar on capital punishment". Miami Herald. Retrieved October 15, 2014.
  19. ^ Pengelly, Martin (January 24, 2023). "DeSantis calls to end jury unanimity for Florida death penalty cases". The Guardian.
  20. ^ "Florida could end unanimous jury requirement for executions". ABC News.
  21. ^ Mazzei, Patricia (April 20, 2023). "DeSantis Signs Law Lowering Death Penalty Threshold in Florida". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 28, 2023. Retrieved April 28, 2023.
  22. ^ "Rick Scott signs bill speeding up capital punishment". Retrieved June 15, 2013.
  23. ^ "Methods of Execution | Death Penalty Information Center". Archived from the original on July 3, 2008. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  24. ^ "922.105 Execution of death sentence; prohibition against reduction of death sentence as a result of determination that a method of execution is unconstitutional". Retrieved March 28, 2022.
  25. ^ "Timeline: 1922-1924 - A History of Corrections in Florida". Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved 2016-07-21.
  26. ^ "DPIC | Death Penalty Information Center". Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  27. ^ "Welcome to nginx". Archived from the original on June 8, 2011. Retrieved April 16, 2008.
  28. ^ "Timeline: 1999 - A History of Corrections in Florida". Archived from the original on April 21, 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-21.
  29. ^ Bousquet, Steve (January 4, 2018). "Solitary man: What Rick Scott's legacy as governor will look like". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  30. ^ De Jesus, Roy. "Florida Governors and the Death Penalty: Could DeSantis Pass Rick Scott?".
  31. ^ a b "Clemency | Death Penalty Information Center". Archived from the original on June 18, 2008. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  32. ^ O'Shea, Kathleen A. (1999). Women and the Death Penalty in the United States, 1900-1998. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-275-95952-4. Retrieved April 23, 2023.

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