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A Renewed Call to End Death Penalty in Florida

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State lawmakers will begin addressing challenges to Florida's death-penalty law this week. (DodgertonSkillhause/morguefile)
State lawmakers will begin addressing challenges to Florida's death-penalty law this week. (DodgertonSkillhause/morguefile)
January 9, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The future of capital punishment in Florida is in question after a series of puzzling rulings from the state's highest court - and some believe it's time to do away with the death penalty altogether.

In December, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that nearly 200 death row inmates were eligible for new sentencing hearings, which experts said could take years and cost the state as much as $100 million. Then on Jan. 6, the high court forbid the state from imposing the death penalty in pending prosecutions; only to withdraw the order hours later.

Mark Elliott, executive director at Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said there is another option.

"The alternative in Florida is life in prison without the possibility of parole, which some people call 'death by imprisonment,’” Elliott said. "So, the result is the same, it's just that there's no death by execution."

Florida has long been considered an outlier for not requiring that juries be unanimous in recommending a death sentence, which is the norm in every other state with the death penalty except Alabama.

State lawmakers are expected to have their first committee hearings of the year on the death penalty this week.

In 2016, the Florida Legislature passed a law requiring at least 10 jurors to agree on a recommendation of death, a change from the simple majority of seven that had been the law for decades.

Still, Elliott argued that re-sentencing 200 death row inmates will be too costly and won't make Floridians any safer.

"We have over 14,000 unsolved homicides in Florida and no permanent cold-case squads to look into those. And services and help for the victims of violent crimes and their families is much less than where it should be,” he said.

Florida currently has 384 inmates on death row - the second-highest population in the country.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - FL