The death penalty has proved itself to be a costly, ineffective way of deterring crime in our streets, and it puts innocent lives at risk. There is no reason for Florida conservatives and others to have any faith in this broken government program.
If we want a safer and more prosperous Florida, prosecutors need to stop seeking the death penalty and the Legislature needs to get rid of it altogether.
That’s why I was among eight conservatives — three of us millennials — at a news conference at the Orange County Courthouse on Wednesday. We announced the launch of the group Florida Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, and we called on lawmakers to repeal capital punishment. The death penalty simply does not align with our conservative values of limited government, fiscal responsibility and valuing life.
The announcement is especially timely because of the costly mess facing Florida. For years, Florida has been sentencing people to death in an unconstitutional manner because it failed to empower the jury to decide who receives a death sentence. Now the cases of more than 200 death-row inmates will return to court for re-sentencing.
This influx of cases will cost the state millions of dollars and potentially overwhelm the state’s criminal-justice system. Death sentences rarely end in executions, while inflicting a host of harms on the state. Given that reality, the state would be better off if prosecutors accepted life without parole for the death-row inmates whose cases are coming back to court, and if Florida lawmakers simply repealed the death penalty.
One big benefit of ending the death penalty in Florida is that we would save a whole lot of money. Re-sentencing efforts could cost Florida taxpayers more than $100 million, according to Mark Elliot, who is the executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. That is $100 million that could contribute to Florida’s economy and job growth instead of paying for costly judicial processes. If the death penalty were repealed in its entirety, even more taxpayer funds would be saved, given that the state spends no less than an additional $50 million on the death penalty per year, according to an older study.
Another benefit — one far more important than the amount of money saved — is that innocent lives would no longer be risked to an imperfect justice system. There are countless examples of innocent individuals who were put on death row and later found to be wrongly convicted, such as the North Carolina case of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown. They are two intellectually disabled individuals who were wrongly convicted of murder and sent to death row, only to be found innocent 31 years later. These same dangers exist in Florida. To date, 27 individuals have been released from Florida’s death row, which is more than any other state. That number doesn’t include those executed in Florida who may have been innocent.
By repealing the death penalty, we completely avoid the chances of killing an innocent person, who has family, friends, and loved ones. If we end the death penalty, then the wrongly convicted have the rest of their lives to prove their innocence and be released if a mistake was made in the judicial or investigative process.
Take a second and imagine if you or someone you knew was wrongly convicted of a crime and sentenced to death. Would you want that man or woman to have a chance at freedom, or would you have the person die for the sake of supposedly keeping Florida a safer place?
There isn’t sufficient evidence that the death penalty reduces murder rates. Murder rates have declined in many states after they repealed the death penalty. John Donohue, a law professor at Stanford University said, “There is no statistical study that has given us any reason to believe the death penalty reduces murder.” Similarly, the National Academy of Sciences came to the conclusion that there is no credible evidence that the death penalty protects society.
Florida’s death penalty is a disaster by any measure, and this is why a growing number of conservatives, especially young conservatives such as myself, have had enough. There is nothing conservative about a wasteful government program that risks innocent lives, especially when we can keep Floridians safe without it.
Daniel Lopez, 21, is a student at the University of Central Florida studying economics. He is the the treasurer of the Young Americans for Liberty chapter at UCF.