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Lawmakers Want to Speed Up Executions of Florida’s 404 Death Row Inmates

| March 6, 2013

Capital punishment's speedy version. (Denis LeBlanc)

Capital punishment’s speedy version. (Denis LeBlanc)

With more than 400 people on Florida’s Death Row, a House subcommittee Tuesday approved a proposed constitutional amendment that is part of a plan to try to reduce delays in carrying out the death penalty.

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The proposed constitutional amendment would shift power from the courts system to lawmakers to set rules about what are known as “post-conviction” appeals in death-penalty cases. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee also approved an accompanying bill that spelled out several steps for trying to speed up the process.

Subcommittee Chairman Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican who is sponsoring the measures, said he hopes the plan will spur changes that will prevent the need for going to the ballot in 2014 with the proposed constitutional amendment. He said, in part, he is trying to end “gamesmanship” that has contributed to lengthy appeals.

“If there is no other way, this Legislature has to act and has to step forward,” Gaetz said.

But some lawmakers, the Florida Bar and a central Florida judge raised concerns about trying to take authority away from the courts. Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, said he couldn’t support what he described as an “encroachment.”

“What I want to do is avoid a constitutional battle across the street … and I fear that that’s where it’s going to end up, and I just can’t support that in good conscience,” Clelland said, referring to the Florida Supreme Court, which is across the street from the Capitol.

The subcommittee voted 8-5 to approve the proposed constitutional amendment (PCB CRJS 13-04) and 9-4 to approve the accompanying bill (PCB CRJS 13-05).

The state constitution gives the Supreme Court the power to set rules for how the legal system works, limiting the ability of the Legislature to force changes. In 2000, the Legislature approved a law to try to shorten death-penalty appeals, but the Supreme Court found that the law was an unconstitutional encroachment on its powers.

As of Sunday, the state had 404 Death Row inmates, more than any other state except California, according to a House staff analysis. Inmates spend an average of 13 years on Florida’s Death Row, and 10 have been there for more than 35 years. Last Friday, Gov. Rick Scott signed the sixth death warrant of his tenure, that one for Larry Eugene Mann, who murdered 10-year-old Elisa Nelson as she rode her bike to school in Palm Harbor on Nov. 4, 1980. Mann will die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. April 10 at Florida State Prison, near Starke, after 32 years on death row.

Gaetz said the bill accompanying the proposed constitutional amendment includes a series of changes that would try to shorten timeframes in death-penalty appeals. Many of those changes are procedural — such as shortening the amount of time in which motions can be filed and hearings held — but others would take steps to rein in such issues as allegations that post-conviction attorneys have conflicts of interest. Those allegations can delay cases.

But Belvin Perry, the chief judge in the 9th Judicial Circuit in Orange and Osceola counties, said the delays in carrying out the death penalty are broader than procedural issues. He said 94 Death Row inmates have exhausted their appeals but have not faced execution, an issue that he attributed, at least in part, to a need for more resources in the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office, the court system and in the offices of attorneys who handle inmates’ appeals.

Perry, who said he sentenced three of the 94 Death Row inmates who have exhausted their appeals, also warned that changes in the death-penalty appeal process could lead to disputes in federal courts.

“Before we tinker with this too much, we need to think carefully because once you get the feds involved, you never know what will happen,” Perry said.

Phil Chanfrau, a Palm Coast attorney, wrote on his blog earlier this week: “Any thought of capping the appeals to eight years is likely to result in a decision by the US Supreme court that Florida’s appellate review process is fatally flawed and unconstitutional.” He added: “Politicians have long known that the surest way to lose an election is to appear soft on crime. They refuse to bite the bullet on this issue for political reasons. Until the general public realizes it is too costly to pay for appeals in death penalties, and that mistakes do happen we will continue to have this huge waste on our taxes. Keep them in prison. A million dollars can be better spent on other things like teachers, bridges, schools, and roads.”

But Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, questioned whether the process would change if the Legislature does not get involved.

“Without action by the Legislature, we are not going to see the necessary changes made,” Harrell said.

–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

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10 Responses for “Lawmakers Want to Speed Up Executions of Florida’s 404 Death Row Inmates”

  1. glad fly says:

    why should an innocent person,sometimes an entire family rot in their graves while their muderer is in prison with and excercise yard,free medical,free dental,free access to legal system and the internet sometimes for 10-20 years? In fact some want to be executed but our system won’t do it. there is something inherently wrong this picture not to mention the fact that is very expensive to the tax payers. if people that commit these heinous crimes knew that they would be executed immediately they might think twice before they take somebody’s life. plea bargains and sweetheart deals need to be eliminated as well.

    • Nancy N. says:

      Umm what planet do you live on that you think prison inmates have “free access to the internet”? They don’t have internet access, period – for pay or free. Florida inmates are barred by rule from accessing the internet. Violating that rule can earn them an escape charge.

      We have an appeals process in this country for a reason. Judges and juries make mistakes. Innocent people do get convicted, even in capital cases, and it is up to the court’s appeals system to correct those mistakes and give people their lives back. It’s what separates us from the countries like Iran and China where people can be executed the same day they are convicted in kangaroo courts.

      You want to eliminate plea deals? Then you better be prepared to start paying the tab as a tax payer for long expensive trials in every case, and to take the risk that some defendants will walk because the prosecutor’s case against them is shaky or one of the jury members was an idiot. Plea bargains exist for a reason, because they benefit BOTH sides in the case. And speaking of juries…if you want to send every case to trial that means we’re going to need a lot more juries. So we all better be prepared to start spending weeks of our lives every year sitting in a courthouse. That will be great for national productivity.

      Making a statement like if “knew that they would be executed immediately they might think twice before they take somebody’s life” demonstrates no understanding of how these things happen. There isn’t a rational “should I commit a murder today” decision making process! People don’t sit down and do a cost-benefit analysis of these things. Hmm, let’s think about this…should I commit a murder today? What are the pro’s and con’s? Situations get out of control and things just happen. People are fried on drugs. Or the person is so mentally messed up and irrational that it makes them think murder is the best decision. The potential legal consequences aren’t even part of the equation.

      • Samuel Smith says:

        I’m with you up to the point of eliminating plea deals. Jury duty is an important civic duty, and I think if more people had to serve there might be more of a push by the public for rehabilitation instead of incarceration.

  2. It’s time to do away with the death penalty. There is no way to carry it out safely and effectively.

  3. Mel Bronson says:

    Those politicians are fed up with paying to feed these killers. Gas’em.

    • Nancy N. says:

      It actually costs more to execute someone. You want to save money? Eliminate the death penalty.

    • JG says:

      I’m not sure if they still manufacture Zyklon B, but if you’re looking for Nazi-like efficiency that would do the trick. Too bad about those innocents exonerated by DNA evidence if your speedy check-out line gets implemented.

  4. glad fly says:

    i cannot believe that people are still defending these creeps. nancy n…i hope none of these creepers cause harm to you or one of your family. i am absolutely baffled at your comments.

    • Nancy N. says:

      Glad fly, what do you think I’m advocating for? I’m not advocating letting these people back out on the streets, for heaven’s sake! I’m just saying that life without parole is superior from both a budgetary and moral standpoint, while still being effective from a public safety standpoint.

      As Phyllis notes, the 250 inmates exonerated by the Innocence Project since 1989 are proof that we shouldn’t fast-track appeals.

  5. Phyllis C says:

    Given the FACT that Project Innocent has exonerated over 300 inmates on death row as completely innocent of the crime they were convicted of screams loudly at this proposal. If the State of Florida wishes to decrease the number of inmates in the state prison system, they need to start at the root of the problem;
    the injustice system haunting the halls of “justice.” People are falsely convicted everyday in the court system either by being scared into plea bargaining by threat of a more lengthy sentence or by insisting on their innocence and a trial (which is our constitutional right). If they do not accept a plea bargain and plead guilty (to a crime they did not commit) they are persecuted by the sentence they get at trial after being found guilty by a jury that the state prosecutors lie, cheat, steal, present false evidence, voice damning innuendos and criticisms of the defendant and bolster sympathy for the alleged victim, and withhold critical evidence for a win in their case to sway the jury to their side. The State Prosecutor is WELL AWARE THAT THEY CANNOT BE SUED FOR THEIR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY no matter what they do. They are immune to prosecution. Our family would NEVER have believed what goes on in the trial court today, but we had a very painful lesson first hand. It was surreal what transpired. We watched in shock as things were presented which were not true and things that were true never saw the light of day. The female Prosecutor was very dramatic, verbally critical, presented evidence falsely and knowingly, strutted before the jury and won her case – another notch on her belt of success which she won an award for her many convictions. Conviction at any cost is NOT justice. Those who want the convicted executed immediately needs to search their soul the real truth. The person found guilty may not be the real perpetrator but just as innocent as the alleged victim they are seeking justice for. This would make them no better than the real perpetrator who might have taken a life of their loved one. People in this country need desperately to pull their head out and find out what is going on. It is not only “not pretty” but is very scary and devastating to an innocent person caught in the web of injustice.

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