Vivien Miller


Florida's State Board of Pardons, created by the state constitution of 1868, was a necessary component of the state’s criminal justice system in the late 19th and 20th centuries due to the general inadequacy of the penal arrangements,1 the frequency with which judges imposed death penalties on those convicted of firstdegree murder, and the absence of any probation or parole facilities. Letters to the pardoning board, to successive governors and to newspapers such as the Florida Times Union and the Tampa Tribune, indicate accord among diverse sections of Florida society on the need for harsh punishment for those who committed violent acts. Circuit judges imposed sentences of death or life imprisonment in accordance with the state’s statutes relating to murder (divided into three degrees of severity),2 the decisions of all-male juries, and to placate public opinion.3 The existence of the Board of Pardons allowed them to do this and then recommend leniency at a later date, even following an unsuccessful appeal to the state Supreme Court. Further, in the interests of justice an alternative tribunal to consider the grievances and petitions of offenders was needed to uphold the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. It is important to point out, however, that the vast majority of prisoners incarcerated in Florida’s state prison system in the years 1889-1914 were discharged only on the expiration of their sentence, thus pardons affected a minority of convicts.