Today's Tampa Tribune publishes the editorial, "Revisit Florida's death penalty."
The best way to keep Florida's death penalty from being subjected to interminable delays is to ensure the sentencing process is fair, equitable and on solid legal ground.
Yet despite calls from the legal community for a comprehensive review of capital sentencing, the state has failed to scrutinize a system that leads the nation in overturned death sentences.
Today the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice is scheduled to discuss constitutional amendments that would try to expedite the system by curbing legal safeguards — hardly a thoughtful move in a state that since 1973 has had 24 exonerations from death row, more than any other state.
The state also leads the nation in new death penalty sentences, with 22 last year.
Ensuring the death sentence is imposed scrupulously should be a state priority.
"First, review flawed death row system," is the Tampa Bay Times editorial.
Before state Rep. Matt Gaetz pushes ahead with efforts to speed death row prisoners to their execution date, he should demand a review of why Florida's capital punishment system is so prolific and mistake prone. The state holds the dubious distinction of being first in the nation in the number of new death sentences imposed and the number of death sentences overturned, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center. The system's issues have not escaped the Florida Bar, the state's pre-eminent legal organization, which last week called for its comprehensive review. Any legislative "fixes" should wait for a full review.
As chairman of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, Gaetz intends to offer a series of proposals during today's subcommittee meeting to change the way death sentence appeals are handled. The Fort Walton Beach Republican says he wants to address what he calls the "absurd" situation of people "who hang around on death row for 25 to 30 years." In fact, the average length of time an inmate sits on death row in this state is a little over 13 years. That might seem like a long time, but not to people like Juan Melendez, who was exonerated after nearly 18 years on Florida's death row. A tape was unearthed of the real perpetrator making a confession. Arbitrary speed in that case would have resulted in a terrible injustice.
To Gaetz's credit, he promises to have an open mind and won't rush into voting on any measures before there is a full debate. But some of his ideas on how to change Florida's death penalty system are wrongheaded from the start.
Earlier coverage from Florida begins at the link.