Report: Florida Still One of the Most Death Penalty-Happy States Despite Nationwide Decline

Ol' Sparky still remains the state's auxiliary means of execution.
Ol' Sparky still remains the state's auxiliary means of execution.
Courtesy of Florida Department of Corrections

Public sentiment against the death penalty has reached its highest peak since 1972. Even in states where the death penalty remains legal, death penalty sentences and actual executions are becoming more and more rare. 

Well, Florida is bucking the trend and remained quite death penalty-happy in 2015. In fact, a year-end report from the Death Penalty Information Center dubs Florida and "outlier" when it comes to the use of lethal punishment. 

In 2015, there were only 28 executions across the country. That's the lowest number since 1991, and those executions were only carried out in six states. Two of those occurred right here in Florida. That number is down from the eight Florida executions in 2014, but Gov. Rick Scott halted executions or several months this year after the state was hit with a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection. 

The only states to execute more people this year were Texas (13), Missouri (6) and Georgia (5). Oklahoma and Virginia had one execution each. No other state used the death penalty this year. 

Nationwide, just 49 newly convicted felons were handed the death penalty, the fewest of any year since 1973. 

However, Florida alone handed out nine of those death sentences. Only California, the country's most populous state, handed out more. Yes, Florida sentenced more people to death this year than Texas. 

Scott is quite the fan of the death penalty. This year he broke Jeb Bush's record as the Florida governor who signed the most execution orders. In 2013, he even signed a law the sped up the time between sentencing and execution. 

Florida, however, also had one man on death row exonerated this year. In October, the state Supreme Court acquitted Derral Hodgkins of the murder of his former girlfriend, citing insufficient evidence. There were no eyewitnesses to the death, none of the fingerprints found on the scene matched Hodgkins, and all evidence was deemed circumstantial. 

Florida has now had 26 people exonerated from its death row, by far the most of any state in the nation. 

Florida's death penalty sentencing laws are unique, but they are currently under review by the Supreme Court. Florida is just one of three states that doesn't require the jury to unanimously agree on the death penalty, and indeed, a judge can ignore the jury's recommendation altogether and impose the death penalty on their own accord. The court heard arguments in the case earlier this year, and many believe that they may rule Florida's death penalty sentencing guidelines unconstitutional.


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