Monday, October 29, 2012
Death Penalty in Florida
In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 153 (1972) that the death penalty, as it was at the time being applied, was cruel and unusual punishment because it was very arbitrary. In Florida, before the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty, there were 314 executions.
In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court revisited the issue in Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242 (1976) and found that the death penalty law that Florida had just enacted was not cruel and usual punishment and thus the death penalty was active.
Why the reversal? Well it's not so much that they changed their mind but instead it was that Florida passed a new law in 1976 that made the application of the penalty less arbitrary. Under the new law death penalty cases had two trials: a guilt phase and, if the defendant was found guilty, a sentence phase. During the guilt phase the jury hears the evidence as usual and decides if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. If guilty we move on to the sentence phase where the jury, in a advisory role, hears aggravating and mitigating circumstances. They then recommend to the judge life in prison with no parole or death. With this new law, and the fact that only murder cases are eligible for the death penalty, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida's death penalty was not cruel and unusual punishment.
Since then there have been 73 executions in Florida and there are currently 400 inmates awaiting execution. Including John Ferguson who is scheduled to be executed within days for the murder of 8 people back in 1977/1978.