The Gainesville Sun reports, "Sides debate whether Scott should sign 'Timely Justice Act'," by Patrick Kelly. Here's the beginning:
With 405 prisoners awaiting execution — a death row population exceeded only by California — Florida is looking for a way to speed up the death penalty process.
The Legislature has sent Gov. Rick Scott a law on capital punishment reform that critics say would limit defendants’ opportunities to vindicate themselves in the courts.
Called the “Timely Justice Act,” the law would require Scott to sign a death warrant within 30 days of receiving confirmation of a capital conviction from the Florida Supreme Court. Scott has not yet said whether he will sign or veto the legislation
Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida, says that if Scott signs the Timely Justice Act, “It’s gonna just create a big, giant mess.”
Florida’s Attorney General’s Office counters that ending unnecessary delays in the death penalty process is something the surviving family members of those slain by death row inmates think is only fair.
Miller worries that speeding up the death penalty process in Florida “will lead to the execution of an innocent person” — which Miller says is a real concern because Florida leads the nation in death row exonerations.
“There’s been 24 death row exonerations in Florida, and we know the vast majority of those 24 individuals spent 15 years or more on death row,” Miller said.
Pennsylvania's Pocono Record publishes the editorial, "Death penalty darkens Fla.'s golden image."
Florida, the Sunshine State, known for its orange groves, deluxe retirement communities and Disney World, seeks another, darker distinction: Death penalty capital of the United States.
The Florida Legislature is mulling a bill that would speed up executions for death row inmates by requiring the state to execute a condemned prisoner within 180 days of a warrant being signed.
Wisely, 18 states have abandoned capital punishment (Pennsylvania, sadly, is not among them), recognizing that the risk of putting to death an innocent person outweighs any perverse satisfaction in putting to death a guilty one. They've also recognized the long-standing disparity in meting out sentences that send a disproportionate share of poor and minority inmates to death row.
No state in this otherwise modern nation should still condone, much less carry out, the death penalty. Around the world, most countries have halted the practice. Among those who retain it are Iran, Iraq, North Korea (remember "the axis of evil"?), Afghanistan and Nigeria, to name a few.
Also from Florida, the News Service of Florida reports, "Miami-Dade public defender allowed to pull out of cases because of workload," by Jim Saunders. It's via the Miami Herald
Describing what it called a "damning indictment" of representation for poor criminal defendants, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the Miami-Dade County public defender's office could withdraw from a large chunk of felony cases because of excessive workloads.
The court divided 5-2 on the issue, with Justice Peggy Quince writing a majority opinion that said attorneys who represent defendants in third-degree felonies often have as many as 50 cases set for trial in a week.
"Clients who are not in custody are essentially unrepresented for long periods between arraignment and trial,'' wrote Quince, who was joined in the majority by justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, Jorge Labarga and James E.C. Perry. "Attorneys are routinely unable to interview clients, conduct investigations, take depositions, prepare mitigation, or counsel clients about pleas offered at arraignment. Instead, the office engages in 'triage' with the clients who are in custody or who face the most serious charges getting priority to the detriment of the other clients."
But Chief Justice Ricky Polston, joined by Justice Charles Canady, wrote a dissenting opinion that said the Miami-Dade public defender's office had not proved harm to defendants. Polston and Canady would have upheld rulings by the Third District Court of Appeal, which rejected the public defender's attempt to withdraw.
"Florida Supreme Court Sides with Public Defenders," is the AP report, via WTXL-TV.
The Florida Supreme Court is siding with public defenders who believe they should be able to reject cases if they don't have the budget and lawyers to adequately represent poor people charged with crimes.
Thursday's ruling overturns an appeals court decision that said public defenders had to accept the cases to represent those who can't afford lawyers.
The Supreme Court cited statistics that show public defenders in Miami-Dade were taking on 200 to 300 cases beyond what they should have been able to handle. It also mentioned conditions that often meant defenders had to start trial before they could interview witnesses or visit crimes scenes.
The court asked the original Miami-Dade County court to determine whether public defenders are still overburdened.
The Florida Supreme Court ruling in Public Defender v. Florida is available in Adobe .pdf format.
Capitol News Service reports, "Death Penalty Dilemma," by Mike Vasilinda.
Five people are now set for execution in Florida. Convicted cop killer William Van Poyck’s execution is set for June 12th. But controversy is swirling around his legal representation.
In this November 2011 file video, renowned capital punishment attorney Mark Olive told a symposium about a crisis in Florida. “There’s a crisis in the state with respect to representation.”
Olive now has a representation crisis of his own. The Florida Supreme Court is forcing Olive and two others, against their will, to represent William Van Poyck, Van Poyck is scheduled to die June 12th. The problem, Olive hadn’t met Van Poyck until a week ago, and he knows little about the case. He asked to withdraw or have more time. The court said no.
It also refused to let Sandy D’Alemberte intervene on Olive’s behalf. “It just doesn’t seem right to execute someone who doesn’t have a lawyer. And when you have lawyers who are telling the court that they’re not able to perform that is the moral equivalent of not having a lawyer.”, says D’Alemberte, former American Bar Association President.
The idea of forcing over worked lawyers to represent someone has the legal community in an uproar. “Mark is being asked to stand there and pretend like he’s acting as a lawyer in order to legitimatize this execution.”, says Attorney Steve Hanlon.
Now comes the biggest irony. In this opinion issued Thursday, this court told the lower court that it was wrong when it refused to let overworked public defenders limit their caseloads.
Earlier coverage from Florida begins at the link.