The South Florida Sun Sentinel publishes the editorial, "Fix on death row appeals falls short." Here's an extended excerpt:
State Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, wants voters to change the Florida Constitution to reduce the time death-row inmates have to appeal their convictions. A second bill would strip the courts of their authority over post-conviction appeals and give that responsibility to state legislators.
Gaetz says he wants to end the "gamesmanship" that has contributed to long appeals, which average 13 years. His approach may give comfort to those who believe everyone on death row is guilty as charged, but this ignores the history in Florida and the nation, where more than 138 people have been released from death row because they were found to be innocent.
History tells us the death penalty is applied unfairly, unjustly and arbitrarily. When the American Bar Association studied Florida's death-penalty system in 2006, it found too many outcomes were determined by a defendant's wealth. It said our system is plagued by racial disparities, problems with the qualifications of defense attorneys and confusion among juries. As one example, Florida remains one of only two states where you can be sentenced to death by a majority vote — rather than a unanimous vote — of the jury. Surely, the imposition of the death sentence should require a unanimous jury.
Unfortunately, since the ABA released its report seven years ago, little has changed.
In 2000, under then-Gov. Jeb Bush, the Legislature similarly tried to set strict time limits on death-penalty appeals, but the Florida Supreme Court said the law was unconstitutional because it infringed on its rule-making powers in death-penalty cases.
Stoking another separation-of-powers controversy this year won't solve the many problems.
The best solution, really, would be to end the death penalty and let the monsters on death row die in prison without the chance of parole. That way, families would still get closure, society would be rid of them and we wouldn't waste significant time on a system that costs a lot of money and provides no deterrent value.
"Fix capital punishment flaw," is the Tampa Bay Times editorial.
Florida's capital punishment system has a flaw that leads jurors to deliberate less thoroughly than in other states when deciding whether to recommend the death penalty. Florida and Alabama are the only two of 32 death penalty states not to require a unanimous jury vote as part of the sentencing process. Today a vote is expected in the Senate's Criminal Justice Committee on a bill sponsored by Sen. Thad Altman, a Melbourne Republican, to require juror unanimity for execution recommendations and bring Florida into line with other states. Despite the death penalty's cost and potential for innocent people being executed, the Florida Legislature isn't likely to abolish it — unlike Maryland lawmakers, who moved to do so last week. But a bill that pushes jurors to do their job more carefully and thoughtfully would make the system less error-prone and should be universally supported.
Altman is right to say a unanimous jury recommendation "will enable us to have a more effective and accurate system." Florida ranks first in the nation in the number of inmates who have had death sentences reversed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Experts who have seen the way Florida's capital punishment system operates, including former Florida Supreme Court Justices Raoul Cantero and Harry Lee Anstead, think juror unanimity is needed. Anstead testified before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Altman's bill, saying it would ensure that the death penalty is reserved for "the worst of the worst" and help immunize death sentences from appeals and constitutional challenges.
"Law doesn't require unanimous jury for death sentence," is the Tampa Bay Times news report written by Alexandra Zayas cited in the paper's editorial. Here's the beginning of this must-read:
The jurors had started to talk it out.
Some thought Patrick Evans should die for what he did to his estranged wife and the man he found in her bedroom — shot him in the neck, then, as she cried for help, pulled the trigger again.
But in a Pinellas County jury room on Nov. 10, 2011, some could not agree that the murders deserved the death penalty. One woman cried, remembers juror Quentin Davis. He asked the rest to find out why, and remembers one man saying he didn't care, that it wouldn't change his mind.
Some didn't want to share their thoughts, says juror Phyllis McMahon. "They either weren't talking about it, or would hint maybe life in prison was okay, or they weren't saying at all. You could tell by body language, by silence, by facial expression."
So the jurors came up with a solution:
They would put their written votes in a cup.
Out they came: 9-3 for death in the wife's murder, 8-4 for the same in the death of the man.
There was no need for further debate.
They had what they needed.
In Florida, defendants must be found guilty by a unanimous vote, whether they steal a car or kill. But when it comes to recommending the ultimate punishment, a simple majority, 7-5, suffices.
This is the only state in America that allows such split juries to recommend death. And it matters. In 2012, almost two-thirds of the defendants sent to Florida's death row were ushered there even after some of the jurors believed they should be spared.
A Republican state senator is trying to pass legislation that would bring Florida in line with the rest of the nation, in which most states require a unanimous vote. Juror Davis hopes he succeeds.
Earlier coverage from Florida begins at the link.