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What Is a Capital Crime?

Late this past May, the Justice Department decided to inflict capital punishment on Dylann Roof, and sentence him to death for the crimes he committed in July 2015.Who is Dylann Roof?He’s the man who made national headlines after he was accused of killing nine people in a historically black Charleston church last summer. Roof showed little remorse for the shootings, which are strongly believed to be racially motivated. Both of these factors played a big role in the Department’s decision to inflict capital punishment.Using the death penalty was fiercely debated among the members of the Department, and Roof’s trial was put on hold multiple times throughout the year. Weeks before the Justice Department’s indictments, the state of South Carolina had indicted Roof on nine counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder, and one count of possessing a weapon during a violent crime. Months ago, the state also announced their intention to inflict the death penalty on Roof.Because the case has such a high profile, the potential Presidential candidates have all been publicly asked to weigh in on their opinion on Roof’s case and the death penalty in general, but there have been mixed (or no) responses. Capital punishment comes and goes as a hot-button issue in national politics. Most of the time, the sentencing and execution of capital punishment is left up to the state.But what crimes qualify for capital punishment? How often does it happen?

Capital Crimes at the Federal Level

Capital punishment at the federal level is a sentence to death by legal injection. There are 41 crimes that are considered capital offenses at the federal level. Most refer to murder: first-degree murder, murder related to the smuggling of aliens, murder related to other violent felonies, and so on. The only capital offenses not related to murder are espionage, treason, and extensive drug trafficking.However, the Justice Department rarely executes criminals on death row. In fact, since 1994, only three inmates have been put to death. These are usually high-profile cases, and include the execution of Timothy McVeigh in 2001. In fact, currently the Justice Department says it does not even have the proper dose for the legal injection to be used against Roof.

Capital Punishment in Florida

Thirty-one states have made the death penalty legal at the state level. Florida made capital punishment legal – for all ages – in 1972. Similar to national policies, capital punishment here is reserved for capital homicide, although exceptions have been made for capital drug trafficking.“Capital homicide” can be defined by the following:

  • Knowingly creating great risk of death to multiple people
  • Committing homicide against a victim under the age of 12 years old
  • Committing homicide against a victim who was serving in law enforcement or as a public official
  • Premeditated homicide
  • A felony committed by an inmate serving in prison
  • Having a long history of felonies and using threats of violence

If an inmate is sentenced to capital punishment, they will be sentenced to receive lethal injection unless he or she prefers electrocution.Almost 400 inmates are currently sitting on death row in Florida, and the state is in the process of changing how they sentence and inflict capital punishment. In January, the Supreme Court ruled that Florida’s policy of letting judges (rather than juries) sentence capital punishment was unconstitutional. They stated that this method violates the Sixth Amendment, which states and protects the right to an impartial jury.

West Palm Beach Capital Crimes Defense Lawyer

Since the state is continuing to make reforms, it is crucial to keep yourself educated and updated on changes to policies and procedures. If you are charged with homicide, you may face capital punishment and a long wait on death row. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney today to discuss your options and defense strategies.About the Author:Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he's done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.

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