How many states border Florida

Arbitrariness in executions in the "Sunshine State" Florida

Whether a prisoner sentenced to death is executed in Florida often depends on sheer arbitrariness. People with intellectual disabilities also end up on death row. The US state is sticking to its particularly ruthless execution of the death penalty, even though the US Supreme Court certified Florida as unconstitutional in 2016. A new report, published by Amnesty International on August 23, documents this arbitrary system of imposing the death penalty.

"The death penalty is generally to be rejected, it is inhuman and cruel. Unfortunately, many US states continue to rely on the death penalty. Florida stands out for its particularly ruthless use of the death penalty. Florida denies the positive development that 19 other states are in the decided in favor of the abolition of the death penalty in the past few years, "says Sumit Bhattacharyya, USA expert at Amnesty International in Germany.

The state ranks fourth with its executions in the United States since 1976. At that time, the US Supreme Court approved the reintroduction of the death penalty.

The report "Darkness Visible in the Sunshine State: The Death Penalty in Florida" examines how many prisoners sentenced to death have been denied the right to a review of their sentences. The US Supreme Court ruled in the Hurst v Florida case in 2016 that Florida's rules of procedure for imposing the death penalty were unconstitutional as the jury was only given an advisory role.

Instead of carefully reassessing the death penalty, the state legislature responded with a swift revision of the relevant legislation to allow the death penalty to be imposed again. The Florida Supreme Court has only applied the Hurst ruling to a limited number of existing cases. The result was that almost half of the 400 prisoners sentenced to death would not even be entitled to a new criminal hearing.

The fate of those sentenced to death is like a "game of dice," as a Florida Supreme Court judge put it. This random principle has already been fatal to four people. They were executed with no chance of review. Many more are currently awaiting execution.

Using case studies, the report shows the arbitrariness with which those sentenced to death are dealt with.

The Amnesty report primarily addresses three types of inmates on death row: those with severe mental disabilities, those classified as mentally retarded or on the verge of mental retardation, and young adults below the age of 18 Years and a background marked by severe privation and abuse.

When sentenced to death, these inmates are branded as "the worst of the worst" - as offenders who, through their "extreme guilt, are most likely to deserve execution". The cases examined in the report question whether the use of the death penalty in Florida is consistent with this constitutional restriction.

The report also reveals how color-dependent the death penalty in Florida is. Twenty of the executions in Florida since 1996 involved black offenders convicted of murdering whites. So far, however, no white man has been executed in Florida for the murder of a black person alone. Despite this imbalance, it remains almost impossible for those sentenced to death to successfully bring systemic racial discrimination lawsuits.

"142 countries around the world no longer use the death penalty or have completely abolished it. The United States of America is now asked to join these countries," said Amnesty expert Sumit Bhattacharyya.

Amnesty demands

  • Amnesty International rejects the death penalty in principle and unreservedly. Amnesty is calling on Florida's governor and his cabinet not to sign any further death sentences and to commute the death penalty to life imprisonment for all death row inmates in order to take the first important steps towards its abolition.
  • Florida prosecutors should no longer try to enforce this sentence in murder cases.
  • The authorities should at least ensure that all judges and juries of all defendants and those sentenced to death are fully informed about extenuating circumstances such as mental and intellectual disabilities, emotional and psychological immaturity or backgrounds such as abuse and privation.