Today's Gainsville Sun and Lakeland Ledger in Florida publish the same editorial on the recent law passed by the Florida State Legislature. In the Sun it's, "Fast but flawed." In the Ledger it carries the heading, "Sooner Executions: Death Penalty Injustice."
For all its faults, the death penalty retains strong support among the public and politicians. The Florida Senate confirmed this reality this week when it easily approved a bill aimed at shortening the long road to execution, sending it to Gov. Rick Scott.
We can surely understand the Legislature's desire to make the process more time-efficient and reduce the seemingly endless delays that dog the system. But in their push to accelerate executions, lawmakers are bypassing larger flaws in the death penalty.
The potential to execute the innocent casts a long moral shadow over the death penalty. But it is troubling for other reasons, too. Statistics indicate clear racial disparities in sentencing. Research indicates the death penalty has virtually no deterrent effect. It does not bring back the lives lost to crime.
Most pragmatically, death-penalty cases can cost 10 times more than life-term cases. The incremental expense of pursuing the death penalty runs into the billions of dollars nationally, some experts estimate. The public bears that cost.
It's past time for a change in priorities. Execution should be reserved for worst-of-the-worst cases where guilt is certain, the physical evidence ironclad and the killer irredeemable. Many cases simply do not meet those criteria.
The Legislature wants justice to be efficient and timely. But accuracy and fairness must come first.
"Florida speeds up the death penalty process," is by Chan Lowe in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
The Florida Legislature has passed a bill called the “Timely Justice Act,” and has sent it up to Gov. Scott for his signature. This piece of legislation is designed to address the frustrations of law-and-order hawks who believe that the death penalty appeals process is too time-consuming and expensive. It would curtail certain appeals, impose deadlines on filing others, and would force the governor to sign death warrants within a certain time limit.
Two things come to mind when I see this: First, Thomas Jefferson’s quotation, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” One must draw from this that he also believed the opposite to be true, that ignorant people cannot be trusted. Unfortunately, the latter sounds like much of our current electorate.
An informed voter will know that Florida is one of the leading states when it comes to death row exonerations due to exculpatory evidence, trial procedural issues, or whatever. The informed voter (as a citizen of the State and therefore complicit in the execution) wouldn’t want his legislator playing so fast and loose with the death penalty if there were a decent chance it was being wrongly applied. He would be willing to give the convict every opportunity to clear himself, rather than risk a wrongful execution.
The other thing that comes to mind is the bloodthirstiness of a Legislature that has gone to such pains (pains endured by many of the women of this state) to prove itself “pro-life.” One would imagine that a Legislature so captivated by the concept of the Sanctity of Life would be falling all over itself to abolish the death penalty, not facilitate it.
Earlier coverage of the Florida death penalty legislation begins at the link.