For Immediate Release: Tuesday, February 27, 2018
New Poll Shows Pinellas County Voters Prefer Life Sentences Over the Death Penalty by 2 to 1 Margin; Want State Attorney to Reduce or Eliminate Use of the Death Penalty
Voters Also Oppose the Death Penalty for Persons with Mental Illness, and Youth Under 21
Florida — A poll released today shows that two-thirds of Pinellas County voters (68%) prefer some version of life in prison over the the death penalty for persons convicted of murder. Only 30% of respondents chose the death penalty as their preferred punishment. Sixty percent of surveyed voters also expressed support for redirecting the funds currently spent on death penalty cases to solving more rapes and murders.
The poll also found that voters opposed seeking the death penalty for individuals with severe mental illness by a three to one margin (66% to 21%) — a difference of 45 points.
View the full results: https://www.scribd.com/documen
Fifty percent of voters also opposed seeking the death penalty for persons who were under the age of 21 at the time of their crimes, compared to just 36% who were not opposed.
Notably, a majority of voters would either strongly (46%) or somewhat (18%) support a decision by their local State Attorney to reduce or eliminate use of the death penalty.
“After evaluating other recent polls on this issue, it has become clear that a trend has emerged in Florida as voters increasingly prefer alternatives to the death penalty. Whether due to the high cost, the legal chaos, or the risk of executing innocent people, many voters simply don’t think the death penalty is a useful tool anymore,” said Stephen K. Harper, director of the Florida Center for Capital Representation at FIU College of Law.
Court records indicate that the Pinellas/Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe has filed to seek death in 15 pending cases and six re-sentences. Nine death penalty trials are already scheduled for 2018.
Mark Elliott, director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said “The survey results make clear that the state attorney’s office is ignoring the will of the overwhelming majority of Pinellas County constituents who prefer life sentences for those convicted of murder. Expensive death penalty trials do nothing to prevent violent crime, protect law enforcement, or help victims’ families in meaningful ways, and mistakes are also all-too-common.”
Last May, Ralph Wright, Jr. became the 27th innocent person exonerated and released from Florida’s death row. He was sentenced to death in Pinellas County.
Rev. Bob Schneider, Pastor of St. Cecelia Church in Clearwater, added, “These results show us that Pinellas residents are looking for life-affirming alternatives to the death penalty–that they no longer want to answer violence with more violence. The death penalty is not a viable means to promote true healing for victims’ families.”
A report by Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project released in 2016 named Pinellas County as one of the nation’s 16 outlier counties due to its frequent usage of the death penalty.
This is the fourth poll in the last two years where voters in all or part of Florida expressed a strong preference for life sentences over the death penalty. See PPP Florida Poll February 2016, University of Florida Survey Research Center Poll August 2016, and PPP Osceola and Orange Counties Poll April 2017.
The poll was conducted on January 22-23, 2018 by Public Policy Polling. It surveyed 269 Pinellas County voters and has a margin of error of +/- 6.0%. The poll was commissioned by the Florida Center for Capital Representation at FIU College of Law with the support of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. A poll of Miami-Dade County voters will be released later this week.