The Tampa Bay Times publishes the editorial, "Swift is not sure on death penalty."
In Florida and other death penalty states, it can take years and even decades for evidence of a prisoner's innocence to come out. Yet the Timely Justice Act passed by the Florida Legislature would speed the execution process with arbitrary and rigid time limits and reduce the governor's discretion in choosing which death warrants to sign, making it more likely that the state will execute an innocent person. Gov. Rick Scott should veto the bill so that Florida is not even more likely to make a fatal error.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach and the sponsor of HB 7083, claims Florida's death penalty process is too slow and blames "legal gamesmanship and legal quibbling." Yet the state's system is nearly two years faster than the national average. Florida inmates are on death row an average of 13 years before they are executed; the national average is 14.83 years.
In fact, Florida fares far worse in its excessive and faulty use of the ultimate punishment. This state sentences more people to death than any other state and has the highest number of exonerations. That's because Florida doesn't require juries to unanimously recommend a death sentence or the aggravating factors that justify it, as other states do. While judges impose the final sentence, they almost always follow the jury's recommendation. An effort to require juror unanimity for death sentences failed again this session, and even an attempt to amend the legislation to require a supermajority jury vote of at least 10-2 failed.
"Death penalty needs real reform, not speed-up," is the Miami Herald OpEd by Raoul Cantero and Mark Schlackman. Cantero is a former Florida Supreme Court justice; Mark Schlackman is at the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University.
The Florida Senate last week passed a bill to speed up executions entitled, the Timely Justice Act. It was sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. He’s the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee chairman. The House had passed the bill earlier by an overwhelming margin after members quoted from scripture.
Simply put, it runs counter to current trends in death penalty legislation around the country. Gaetz’s apparent calculus was that justice will be served if families of murder victims don’t have to wait for finality, which begs the question as to usage of the term “justice” in this instance.
According to legislative staff analysis, individuals spend an average of 13.22 years on death row in Florida prior to execution, less than the national average.
In February, the Florida Bar adopted a resolution urging state officials to conduct a comprehensive review of the state’s entire death penalty process by all branches of state government, essentially to improve the administration of justice and thereby minimize the risk that Florida might execute an innocent person (or other individuals who should not be subject to the death penalty), a position that we sought for almost two years.
Earlier coverage of the controversial Florida legislation begins at the link.