The Florida Supreme Court recently held that the state’s capital punishment statute is unconstitutional. Approximately 380 people sentenced to death under the now-invalidated sentencing scheme remain on death row, reported Fairpunishment.org.
While litigation is still pending over whether the decision applies to all Florida death sentences, the Court has clarified that the approximately 150 people who were convicted after the Ring v. Arizona decision in 2002 must have their sentences reconsidered. Roughly one-third of these individuals convicted since 2002 come from just five of Florida’s 67 counties: Duval, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Orange, and Pinellas.
This report examines the 48 invalidated death sentences from these five Florida counties. We examined legal pleadings and opinions, trial testimony, and media reports, and consulted with several legal experts in Florida who are familiar with the individuals on death row.
Our research revealed that 63 percent of these individuals exhibit signs of serious mental illness or intellectual impairment, endured devastatingly severe childhood trauma, or were not old enough to legally purchase alcohol at the time the offense occurred.
The pervasiveness of these crippling impairments among Florida’s death row population is significant when evaluating whether the death penalty was the appropriate sentence. Although all murders are gruesome and deserving of serious sanction, the Constitution limits the death penalty to the most aggravated and least mitigated cases.
So, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that regardless of the severity of the crime the death penalty cannot be imposed upon a juvenile or an intellectually disabled person, both classes of individuals who suffer from impaired mental and emotional capacity relative to typically developed adults. To do otherwise would be so disproportionate as to violate his or her “inherent dignity as a human being.”
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