A recent study found that Florida leads the United States in sentencing people convicted of murder to the death penalty.
According to the study conducted by Death Penalty Information Center, the State of Florida sentenced 21 inmates to die by lethal injection in 2012 alone. As well, Florida executed 3 death row inmates in 2012.
Recently, the State Attorney for Palm Beach County announced that his office will be filing notices of intent to seek the death penalty for every first-degree murder case they file. Not every first-degree murder case is a "death penalty case." Factors that aggravate the circumstances of the crime are typically considered by a group of senior-level prosecutors who then decide whether the facts are sufficient to warrant the death penalty. Aggravating factors may include whether the murder was motivated by financial gain, whether the victim was killed in a particularly heinous, atrocious, and cruel manner, and whether the murder occurred during the commission of a serious felony. These are only some of the aggravating factors set forth by Florida law.
However, in a disturbing policy change, every single first-degree murder case filed in Palm Beach County will now be deemed death penalty eligible.
Florida law requires that anybody convicted of first-degree murder be given a mandatory life term. Since there is no parole in Florida, a life term is a death sentence unto itself. However, it is more humane and far less expensive than the death penalty. It also allows for convictions to be overturned if new exculpatory evidence should ever surface. Every once in a while, DNA evidence will exonerate condemned inmates years after their convictions. Essentially if you eliminate the death penalty, you will guarantee that no innocent person will ever be executed.
Florida needs to take a long look at its correctional goals. With the average length of time from conviction to execution being about 30 years in this state, we need to ask ourselves is it really worth it?
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving Miami-Dade and Broward.