Bill Speeding Up Executions in Florida Passes Despite Disturbing Rate of Exonerations
FlaglerLive | April 30, 2013
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.
Since Florida re-instituted the death penalty in 1976, 24 people have been exonerated from death row, the largest number of any state in the Union. The latest, Seth Penalver, was exonerated in December after spending 18 years on death row, and going through three trials.
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.
“Legislation that speeds executions by limiting appeals will almost certainly lead to the execution of innocent men and women,” Mark Elliot, who heads Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said.
The bill also raises the number of death row inmates a state-appointed attorney may represent at any one time, from five currently to 10 once the bill becomes law, even though ineffective representation is one of the many reasons inmates are exonerated.
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. Biut 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. Additionally, the bill seeks to ensure that attorneys have “actual” conflicts of interest before being replaced in death-penalty cases. Replacing attorneys can cause delays.
The bill also repeals the provisions of the Death Penalty Reform Act that were held unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court.
As of early March, Florida had 404 inmates on Death Row, with 155 in custody for more than 20 years, according to a House staff analysis. Ten had been on Death Row for more than 35 years.
This month, Florida executed Larry Eugene Mann, who was convicted in 1981 in the abduction and murder of a 10-year girl in Pinellas County. On April 18, Scott Signed the 6th death warrant of his tenure, for Elmer Carroll, who murdered a 10-Year-Old Girl in 1990. Carroll will be executed on Tuesday, May 6, at 6 p.m., at the state prison at Starke, 75 miles northwest of Palm Coast.
Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said the bill would not prevent inmates from pursuing legitimate claims of innocence. But he echoed Negron’s argument that some people sitting on Death Row for decades makes a “mockery” of the justice system.
“This bill is about closure for victims’ families,” said Bradley, a former prosecutor.
That would be at the expense of some inmates’ innocence, argues Penalver, exonerated in December. “If executions are sped up, then we will be killing innocent people like me,” Penalver said. “Evidence of my innocence was withheld and hidden for almost eighteen years after my conviction.”
Penalver is one of eight Floridians who were exonerated more than ten years after being sentenced to death. “Executing innocent people is murder by all, not justice for all,” he said.
“Legislation that speeds executions by limiting appeals will almost certainly lead to the execution of innocent men and women,” said Mark Elliott, the group’s director.
–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida, and FlaglerLive