Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties “Outliers” in Use of Death Penalty

Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties “Outliers” in Use of Death Penalty

A new report from Harvard University’s Fair Punishment Project lists Pinellas and Hillsborough counties among the top 16 in the U.S. in death penalty sentences. Two other Florida counties, Miami-Dade and Duval, also made the list.

The report tracked criminal convictions from 2010 to 2015. During that time span, each of the 16 counties listed in the report had five or more defendants receive the death penalty.

Why are death sentences so high in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties?

Overzealous prosecutors, racial disparity, and disregard for defendants’ mental and intellectual problems are the three chief complaints against the counties, according to Harvard.

The researchers reviewed the records of six death row inmates currently seeking appeals in Hillsborough County. Three of these men had an intellectual disability, brain damage, or a severe mental illness. In four of the inmate’s cases, the jurors were not unanimously for the death penalty.

In Pinellas County, four out of six inmates had severe mental illness, intellectual disabilities, or brain damage, according to the report. Non-unanimous juries conferred all the recent death sentences.

(Note: The Florida Supreme Court threw out the state’s death penalty sentencing rules, now requiring unanimous juries to sentence a defendant to death.)

What about legal defense?

Defendants need strong legal defense. Unfortunately, in the cases reviewed by the report, inadequate defense representation was a common factor in the convictions, with most evidence presentations lasting less than a day.

The report cites prosecutors as another key factor in the high death penalty rate. Many prosecutors sought death sentences in cases where a judge or the jury disagreed. Some relied on faulty testimony to obtain convictions in first-degree and capital murder cases.

Call Goldman Wetzel for Thorough Legal Defense

If you are facing charges that could warrant the death penalty, you need a strong legal defense to protect your right to a fair trial. Contact the St. Petersburg defense attorneys at Goldman Wetzel to schedule a free consultation: 727-828-3900.