Changes to Florida Death Penalty Laws in 2023

Changes to Florida Death Penalty Laws in 2023
florida death penalty

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed several historical bills into law during the latest legislature session, which ended on May 5, 2023.

One focuses on the Florida death penalty. In short, the changes to the law will drastically impact the number of people who face the death penalty. To learn more about the law and its expected impact, read on.

What Is Florida’s Death Penalty Law?

Florida was the first state to reinstate the death penalty after the U.S. Supreme Court abolished it in the 1972 case Furman v. Georgia.

The death penalty in Florida allows for the execution of individuals with a conviction for specific crimes. Previously, the law required unanimity, meaning everyone on the jury had to recommend the death penalty to hand down a death sentence. But now, the new law dissolves unanimity.

Additionally, the law discusses when the jury must hand down a life sentence, without the possibility of parole, instead of a death sentence.

However, it’s important to note that the law and changes discussed below only affect the jury vote for the penalty phase of capital trials. Juries still need a unanimous vote to convict someone of a crime.

What Crimes Can You Receive the Death Penalty for in Florida?

One can only receive the death penalty for a capital felony. Capital felonies in Florida include violent crimes such as:

  • Armed kidnapping
  • Capital drug trafficking
  • Capital sexual battery (including child rape)
  • Felony and first-degree murder

However, under Florida Statute 921.141, the jury must unanimously find that at least one aggravating fact in the statute was present in the case. If the jury cannot find at least one aggravating factor beyond a reasonable doubt, they cannot recommend the death penalty.

Who Determines if You Receive the Death Penalty in Florida?

The selected jury in your case determines if you get the death penalty. Of the 27 states with the death penalty, the vote must be unanimous in all but two (Alabama and now Florida).

Yet, in Florida, even if the jury recommends the death penalty, the judge can impose a life sentence instead.

What Changes Occurred to Florida’s Death Penalty Law in 2023?

In Tallahassee, lawmakers in both the House and Senate voted to change the jury recommendation for the death penalty from a unanimous vote to an 8-4 vote.

The House voted 80-30, and the Senate voted 29-10.

The changes come as a direct response to the sentencing of the Parkland school shooter, Nikolas Cruz, last year, where the jury handed down a life sentence rather than a death sentence. 

However, the law is expected to face legal challenges. Notably, this isn’t the first time Florida has voted to do away with the unanimous vote. In the mid-2010s, Florida lawmakers voted that only a simple majority was necessary to recommend the death penalty.

Many said the law was unconstitutional, and thus, it made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court indeed ruled the law unconstitutional and forced the Florida Supreme Court to reinstate the unanimous recommendation for the death penalty.

With the new 2023 changes, Florida again has the lowest threshold for giving the death sentence compared to other states with the death penalty. As mentioned, Alabama is the only other state that doesn’t require a unanimous jury vote. In Alabama, the jury requirement is 10-2.

In time, the courts will either strike down the law or allow it to stay on the books.

What Forms of Execution Does Florida Use?

In 1923, Florida lawmakers abolished public hangings and authorized using the electric chair. The Florida Department of Corrections staff built the electric chair in 1999 that the state still uses today. Florida has opposed doing away with the method, saying it acts as a deterrent.

In 2000, the Florida legislature passed a law that allows lethal injection as an alternative method. Today, lethal injection is the default method the state uses.

Where Are Florida Executions Held?

Regardless of the method, death row inmates face execution at the Florida State Prison (FSP) in Raiford, FL. FSP is about a 45-minute drive from Jacksonville.

Get the Help You Need for Your Case

Since the Florida death penalty now has the lowest threshold of any state in the U.S., prosecutors are more likely to seek the death penalty in cases they may otherwise not have before.

If law enforcement has charged you with a capital felony, hiring an attorney to aid in your defense is essential. Luckily, you can get help now from a top criminal defense lawyer in Tampa. At Mike G. Law, we’ll work diligently on your case and fight for your justice under the law.

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