Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Criminology and Criminal Justice

First Advisor

John Burrow


Over the last few decades, there has been greater recognition that increased time on death row is a significant problem in the United States that is getting worse. Beginning with the U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari in Lackey v. Texas (514 U.S. 1045, 1995), numerous defendants have attempted to assert Eighth Amendment claims of cruel and unusual punishment on the grounds that the length of their death row confinement combined with their subsequent execution is unconstitutional. Although such claims have been unsuccessful in the U.S. Supreme Court, other federal courts have examined the issue. In 2014, the Central District of California struck down California’s death penalty system on Eighth Amendment grounds, claiming that the system at the time, characterized by very lengthy periods of death row confinement, in no way furthered the death penalty’s two classic penological purposes of deterrence or retribution (Jones v. Chappell, 31 F. Supp. 3rd 1050, Dist. Ct, C.D. Cal 2014). Although this decision was later overturned on procedural grounds, it represented the first instance in which a federal judge ruled a death penalty system unconstitutional, citing lengthy death row confinement as the core issue. The number of ways in which defendants can appeal their death sentences has increased significantly since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Gregg v. Georgia (428 U.S. 153, 1976). Undoubtedly, the appeals process plays a critical role in lengthy death row confinement. However, less known are the reasons that such lengthy appeals processes have become so commonplace. Using data on defendants sentenced to death in Florida from 1975-2013 (N=406), this study examines the role of case complexity in predicting increased time on death row and ultimately delay. In addition, other appellate-level and case-level variables are considered. Finally, implications for policy and directions for future research are presented.