Fact check: State Attorney Aramis Ayala's reasons for not pursuing the death penalty

by: Mark Boxley Updated:

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ORLANDO, Fla. - On Thursday, State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced she would not pursue the death penalty in any case in her jurisdiction.

In explaining her reasoning, she made five points as to why she decided to take capital punishment off the table in cases her office prosecutes:

Claim: Death penalty has no public safety benefit

“There is no evidence that death sentences actually protect the public.”

Citing a 2012 study by the American National Academy of Sciences, Ayala read a section of the report saying that, “research to date on the effect of capital punishment on homicide is not informative about whether capital punishment decreases, increases, or has no effect on homicide rates.”

Analysis: While the report says there is no evidence that death sentences actually protect the public, it does not say that they don’t protect the public, either.

The report says that research doesn’t prove the issue with any confidence one way or the other.

Conclusion: True, but misleading

Claim: Death penalty does not increase safety for law enforcement officers

“Despite my efforts, I have been unable to find any credible evidence that suggests death penalty increases safety for law enforcement officers.”

Ayala goes on to quote a study on the question: “States that have ended the death penalty tended to have fewer law enforcement deaths by homicide after their states ended the death penalty.”

While she does not identify the report by name, Ayala was referring to a 2014 report by the Delaware Repeal Project.

The two-page study, citing the Officer Down Memorial Page, notes six states (New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland) and says that the states have lower law enforcement homicide rates than before they repealed the death penalty.

Analysis: The report makes a direct correlation between law enforcement homicide rates and repeal of the death penalty without taking into account any other possible contributing factors (population, number of law enforcement officers, criminal justice initiatives, demographics, population centers, etc.).

Regardless, more complete data from the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program shows that between 1996-2015, states that currently have the death penalty saw a 51 percent decrease in law enforcement homicides; those that currently do not have the death penalty saw a decrease of 55 percent.

Conclusion: Ayala’s statements are true based on the Delaware Repeal Project report, but are misleading in the larger picture of law enforcement homicide rates.



Claim: Death penalty is generally not a deterrent

“While the South, including Florida, accounts for around 80 percent of executions, we also have the highest murder rate. This does not describe deterrence.”

Analysis: According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 1976 the South has been the location of about 81 percent of executions in the U.S.

Texas has executed more people than the next six states combined.

According to the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program, the South also has the highest number of homicides per capita in the country.

Conclusion: The statistics Ayala cites are accurate.

Claim: False promises of death penalty give families no closure

“Some victims will support, and some will surely oppose my decision, but I have learned that death penalty traps many victims’ families in decades-long cycles of uncertainty.”

Analysis: In general, this statement is an opinion and cannot be proven or disproved.

Conclusion: Cannot be determined.



Claim: Death penalty costs millions of dollars that far outweigh the cost of life-in-prison sentences

“The American Bar Association has reported that in Florida, a death sentence case costs approximately $2.5 million more than a life sentence.”

Analysis: According to the American Bar Association, Ayala’s numbers are far lower than most estimates.

Citing information from Death Penalty Information Center, the ABA says it is more than $20 million cheaper to give an individual a life sentence as opposed to the death penalty, even if they are in their 20s when convicted and live past 70.

Conclusion: Correct as it pertains to the nature of Ayala’s argument; false in the amount cited.