"Stop death penalty bill, Gov. Scott," is the editorial in today's Miami Herald.
In its rush to secure “justice,” the Florida Legislature has fast-tracked death-penalty legislation at the peril of the innocent.
House Bill 7083, the “Timely Justice Act,” is an attempt to stop frivolous appeals, something everyone can agree on. Sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, the legislation requires the governor to sign a death warrant within 30 days after a state Supreme Court review, with the execution taking place within 180 days after that. It does away with certain types of defenses in death penalty cases.
The Florida Supreme Court already has appointed a committee to go over existing judicial rules and see how cases can move more quickly. That study will be released in September.
So why is the Legislature jumping ahead — the House passed the bill last week and the Senate gave its nod on Monday — without all the facts?
Already, 24 wrongfully convicted Death Row inmates have been cleared since the death penalty was reinstated in 1973 — the most of any of the 32states that impose the death penalty. Another 75 prisoners have been executed in Florida. As Mark Elliott, director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, points out, “That’s one exoneration for every three executions.”
That should give every Floridian pause.
Frank Lee Smith died of cancer on Death Row after 14 years in prison. Sadly, after his death, DNA testing proved he was innocent and also identified the real killer. What kind of justice did Mr. Smith get?
There are heinous crimes that require the death penalty, but the evidence must be air tight. It’s not in many cases. The American Bar Association released an exhaustive report in 2006 pointing out the problems, including racial disparities in meting out justice. For eight years little has been done and now Tallahassee lawmakers are going full speed ahead in the dark.
"Senate Passes Bill Speeding Up Capital Punishment," is the AP report by Bruce Schreiner, via the Lakeland Ledger.
Urged to fix a "mockery" to justice, the Florida Senate passed legislation Monday to accelerate the state's capital punishment process that was criticized for allowing some condemned inmates to languish for decades on death row.
The Senate passed the bill 28-10, sending the measure to Gov. Rick Scott for his consideration. The House passed the Timely Justice Act of 2013 (HB 7083) by an 84-34 vote last week.
The bill creates tighter time frames for appeals and postconviction motions and imposes reporting requirements on case progress.
It also re-establishes a separate agency for North Florida to provide appellate-level legal representation to inmates sentenced to death and requires them to "pursue all possible remedies in state court."
Florida has 405 inmates on its death row, more than any other state except California. It takes an average of 13 years for an inmate to move from sentencing to execution.
The bill's critics worried that speeding up the process could condemn some innocent people to the ultimate punishment.
"Once the execution is over, there's no going back," said Democratic Sen. Maria Sachs.
"Bill reducing delays in implementation of death penalty approved," is the News Service of Florida report by Jim Saunders. It's via the Miami Herald.
State lawmakers Monday gave final approval to a proposal aimed at reducing delays in carrying out the death penalty, with supporters saying they want justice for victims’ families — but critics warning about executing innocent people.
Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who sponsored the measure, said some inmates have been on Death Row for more than 30 years.
"That isn’t justice,’’ Negron said. "That’s a mockery of the court system."
But other lawmakers pointed to scientific advances, such as DNA evidence, that have helped clear some inmates who have been imprisoned for long periods.
"I just think this swiftness does not necessarily equate to fairness,’’ said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.
Senators voted 28-10 on Monday to approve the bill (HB 7083), which passed the House last week. It now goes to Gov. Rick Scott.
The bill focuses, at least in part, on ending delays in what is known as the "post-conviction" legal process, which starts after the Florida Supreme Court upholds death sentences in initial appeals. The post-conviction process can involve appeals about issues such as whether defendants have received ineffective legal representation.
Among other things, the bill seeks to ensure that attorneys have "actual" conflicts of interest before being replaced in death-penalty cases. Replacing attorneys can cause delays.
Also, the bill would take steps to prevent attorneys from representing Death Row inmates if the attorneys have had problems in earlier capital cases. The bill would bar lawyers from working on death-penalty cases for five years if courts have found that they provided deficient representation twice.
Earlier coverage of the Florida legislation begins at the link.