Two bills would end death penalty in Florida

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Anti-death penalty sign posted on Flikr (Creative Commons).

There are two bills in the Florida Legislature to end the use of capital punishment; but the anti-death penalty bills face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

To talk about all issues of the death penalty in Florida, our guest on WMNF was Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Since 1976 only three states have executed more people than the 97 killed by Florida. More than 340 people are now on Florida’s Death Row – it’s the second largest Death Row in the U.S.

We looked at history and the connection between the death penalty and race in Florida. And related, the report by EJI – Lynching in America — says 313 people were lynched in the state between 1878-1950.

Elliot says, “the primary connection is that if a White person is murdered the perpetrator is far more likely to get a death sentence than if a Person of Color is killed or murdered. So, that’s the Number One disparity. In fact, in Florida — since before Statehood, actually — in hundreds of executions, never has a White person been executed solely for the killing of an African-American. It really goes to the truth behind what this system is, how it evolved. It evolved from lynching. It’s pretty much the same as it was then, except now it’s legal.”

In 2016 The U.S. Supreme Court determined in Hurst v Florida that Florida’s death penalty sentencing was unconstitutional. The Florida Legislature made a change to sentencing: that the jury recommendation must be at least 10-2 for a death sentence (previously it was 7-5 and a judge could override). But that wasn’t far enough for the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled later in 2016 that the amended statute was still unconstitutional because a death sentence must come from a unanimous jury recommendation. The Legislature fixed that the following March.

In the Florida Senate, Senator Gary Farmer Jr. is sponsoring SB 472 and in the House, Joseph Geller and Dotie Joseph are sponsoring HB 6013. If passed, these bills would end the use of the death penalty in Florida. Both houses are controlled by Republicans.

Listen to the show here.

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