Which U.S. State Has the Most Error-Prone Capital Punishment System?

September 3, 2013

It is an affront to human rights that the state, any state, should have to power to kill a prisoner; and it is an affront to common sense that this irreversible punishment can be imposed by a system as unreliable and fraught with error as the U.S. criminal justice system.

In most states, a jury must at least be unanimous before issuing a sentence of death. But in the state of Florida, the state that leads the nation in number of wrongfully convicted prisoners exonerated from death row, only a bare majority of jurors is required. In the Sunshine State, although judges ultimately decide the sentence, a jury by a 7-5 vote can recommend execution.

No other state allows this.

More death sentences reportedly were imposed in Florida than any other state<strong> </strong>during the past two calendar years.
In a recent op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel, Raoul Cantero, a former state Supreme Court justice who was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush and Mark Schlakman with the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University, notes that “more death sentences reportedly were imposed in Florida than any other state during the past two calendar years.”

They are jointly urging the state of Florida, a state with – using number of exonerees as a yardstick – the most error-prone capital punishment system in the country, to require juries to be unanimous before recommending a death sentence.

Of course, this would not eliminate the problem of error (unanimous juries can be, and have been, wrong). Nor would it address the even more fundamental problem that executing prisoners is a profound violation of human rights and human dignity.

But perhaps this would be a small step in the right direction.