USA: Florida set to carry out first execution in year-and-a-half this week

A gurney used to carry out lethal injection executions in Florida © Florida Department of Corrections

Planned lethal injection of Mark Asay comes as US executions at lowest levels for decades

New report highlights multiple failings in Florida’s capital punishment system

Amnesty International is calling on the US state of Florida to abandon plans to carry out the execution of a death row prisoner on Thursday in what would be the first execution in Florida for more than a year-and-a-half.

The man set to be executed at 6pm (local time) is Mark Asay, who was sent to death row in 1988 for two murders committed in 1987.

The last execution in Florida was of Oscar Bolin on 7 January 2016, who was given a lethal injection five days before the US Supreme Court issued a ruling (Hurst v. Florida) that Florida’s capital sentencing statute was unconstitutional because it gave juries only an advisory say in which defendants should be sentenced to death.

Amnesty has published a new 25-page report - “Death in Florida” - outlining multiple failings in Florida’s capital punishment system. The report explains that one of Florida’s responses to the Supreme Court ruling was to sack the State Attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida, Aramis Ayala, when, in March this year, she announced she would no longer seek the death penalty due to its demonstrable flaws. Florida’s governor Rick Scott responded by ordering her replacement with a different prosecutor willing to seek death sentences. So far, the governor has transferred 26 cases to his preferred prosecutor.

Racial discrimination was one of the death penalty’s flaws - along with its costs, risks and failure as a deterrent - cited by Ms Ayala, the first African American to be elected to the position of state attorney in Florida. Amnesty’s report also outlines Florida’s long history of racial bias in its capital justice system, as well as the fact that the state played an ignominiously prominent role in the history of white-on-black mob lynchings in the southern states of the USA.

Comparing the contrasting positions of Aramis Ayala and Rick Scott, Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas Director, said:

“Here are two officials taking very different approaches to the overwhelming evidence that the death penalty is a failed policy.

“One says drop it, it is a waste of resources, prone to discrimination, arbitrariness and error. The other says crank up the machinery of death.

“One is acting consistently with international human rights principles. The other is not.”

Bucking the trend

Florida is about to resume executions at a time when the number of executions carried out and the number of death sentences passed each year are at historic lows in the modern era of the death penalty in the USA. The number of executions (20) and death sentences (32) recorded in the USA last year were the lowest since 1991 and 1973, respectively.

For more on the USA’s place in the global context of the relatively small number of countries that carry out executions, see Amnesty’s annual report on this topic.
 

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