Five Death Penalty Movies To Watch

Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn do give riveting performances in Dead Man Walking,and maybe that's why most people think of that film first when they think about movies dealing with the death penalty. 

Of course, the life's work of Sister Helen Prejean may have something to do with it, too!

However, there some other really great films out there that deal with capital punishment.  Here are four other great ones, available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu:

True Crime

Stars Clint Eastwood as a journalist who discovers that an innocent man may be about to be executed in a few hours, and so he investigates .... TIck tock. 

The Life of David Gale

Kevin Spacey stars as an activist who's now Death Row inmate, innocent but facing execution. It's Kevin Spacey, folks. 


Philip Seymour Hoffman does an amazing job transforming himself into author Truman Capote, who interviews and befriends convicted murderer Perry Smith.  Smith is ultimately executed for the murder of a Kansas farm family.  True crime; this really happened.  Movie includes the execution by hanging and the aftermath. 

The Green Mile

Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan star in a movie where we learn that a Death Row Inmate is innocent, but how can the execution be stopped – or can it?  Eerie things happen.  Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.

What Happens to Florida Death Penalty after SCOTUS Ruling in Hurst v. Florida?

Now that the Florida death penalty scheme has been ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Hurst v. Florida. what happens now?

1.  Florida Supreme Court Allows Feb 11 Execution to Proceed

That's not an easy question to answer.  For one thing, the State of Florida is more than ready to keep its execution schedule. 

Cary Michael Lambrix is scheduled to die by lethal injection on February 11, 2016.  The Florida Supreme Court denied Lambrix's request to delay that execution because of the Hurst decision.

2.  Florida Death Row Inmates Wanting New Sentencing Hearings

Meanwhile, a large part of the current Florida Death Row population were sentenced to death under the scheme that was held unconstitutional in Hurst.  They, of course, will be wanting to challenge that process and seek new sentencing hearings as a result.

Will this be granted to them?  Read the debate in a recent Orlando Sentinel article here.

3.  Florida Attorney General and Florida Legislature At Work on a Fix

As for Florida lawmakers, the Florida Attorney General issued a prompt news release after the Hurst opinion was issued. 

Pam Bondi stated that her office would be working with the current Florida Legislature to get a fix as soon as possible, and in the meantime, those cases currently on Death Row would be reviewed on a "case by case basis."

Florida Death Penalty Statute Is Unconstitutional Rules U.S. Supreme Court

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States released its opinion in Hurst v. Florida.

Read the Supreme Court Opinion (including its sole dissent by Justice Alito) here.

What has happened here is that the highest court in the nation has ruled Florida's process in death penalty trials violates the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The Sixth Amendment provides: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury. . . .”



How does the Florida death penalty trial process violate the Sixth Amendment according to SCOTUS? 

Under Florida law, jurors in a capital case make recommendations to the judge regarding whether or not a defendant should be sentenced to death or not.  However, under that law, it was the Florida judge who presided over the capital case who made the final decision on whether or not the defendant was sentenced to die for the crime he or she had just been convicted.

All of the justices agreed that this procedure was in violation of the Sixth Amendment except one: Justice Samuel Alito dissented.

Specifically, SCOTUS holds that Florida's process does not conform with its 2002 decision in Ring v. Arizona.  

Florida Law Held to Violate Ring v. Arizona

In that case, Ring held that anyone facing the death penalty had a right to have a jury of their peers decide if the aggravating circumstances presented by the prosecution made them eligible for the death penalty.

Since the Florida process has juries advising the judge, but the trial judge making that ultimate decision, the High Court ruled that Florida's process was unconstitutional.

From the majority opinion:

The analysis the Ring Court applied to Arizona’s sentencing scheme applies equally to Florida’s. Like Arizona at the time of Ring, Florida does not require the jury to make the critical findings necessary to impose the death penalty. Rather, Florida requires a judge to find these facts. Fla. Stat. §921.141(3).

Although Florida incorporates an advisory jury verdict that Arizona lacked, we have previously made clear that this distinction is immaterial: “It is true that in Florida the jury recommends a sentence, but it does not make specific factual findings with regard to the existence of mitigating or aggravating circumstances and its recommendation is not binding on the trial judge.

A Florida trial court no more has the assistance of a jury’s findings of fact with respect to  sentencing issues than does a trial judge in Arizona.” Walton v. Arizona, 497 U. S. 639, 648 (1990); accord, State v. Steele, 921 So. 2d 538, 546 (Fla. 2005) (“[T]he trial court alone must make detailed findings about the existence and weight of aggravating circumstances; it has no jury findings on which to rely”).

And in sum:

The Sixth Amendment protects a defendant’s right to an impartial jury. This right  required Florida to base Timothy Hurst’s death sentence on a jury’s verdict, not a judge’s factfinding.

Florida’s sentencing scheme, which required the judge alone to find the existence of an aggravating circumstance, is therefore unconstitutional.

The judgment of the Florida Supreme Court is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Update:  Lenamon in Miami Herald on Hurst

01/13/2016 Update:

Read Terence Lenamon's take on the case (among others like ACLU rep) in Miami Herald discussion of the Hurst decision here.

Is Death Penalty Becoming Less Acceptable in the USA?



What's Going On Here?

Here's the question: is the death penalty becoming less acceptable to the American Public -- or is the decline a result of the inability of states to execute efficiently with the lethal injection method of execution?

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