Florida Passes Bill to Execute Faster

by Rania Khalek on May 14, 2013

Rania Khalek

Rania Khalek

Florida Passes Bill To Speed Up Executions

For a state with 24 death row exonerations under its belt (the highest in the country), you would think Florida might want to slow down its execution process to avoid putting innocent people to death. But Florida lawmakers are doing just the opposite.

Late last month both the Florida House and Senate passed the “Timely Justice Act”, which Republican Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign into law, according to Reuters.

Under Florida’s current process, the Governor signs and issues death warrants at his discretion. The Act would change this by setting up automatic deadlines for filings to speed up the appeals process. Once appeals are exhausted and clemency denied, the Governor would be forced to issue a death warrant within 30 days and an execution date within 180 days.

Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, or FADP, says 13 of the 405 inmates on death row in Florida fall within this category and would therefore be issued death warrants immediately. Another 80 prisoners have exhausted their appeals and are waiting on clemency hearings, making them vulnerable to immediately issued death warrants as well. That means that if the “kill them faster” Act is signed into law, the state of Florida could execute as many as 90 inmates within the first six months of its signing.

Proponents of the Act argue that the appeals process is too lengthy, costly and delays justice. Indeed, the process can take decades and cost million$, but that is to ensure justice not delay it. After all, several of Florida’s condemned were on death row for over a decade before proving their innocence. One example is Juan Melendez, who spent 18 years on death row and lost three appeals in front of the Florida Supreme Court before his release. Had the “streamline murder” Act been in place at the time there’s a good chance Melendez and others like him would have been killed for crimes they didn’t commit.

If the state insists on taking someone’s life (a morally corrupt position to start with), shouldn’t it be 110 percent certain the accused are guilty? And therein lies just one of the many, many problem with the death penalty; rarely does this kind of certainty exist. The state can always overturn a sentence if an inmate is later found innocent, but not if they’re already dead. Lethal injection is permanent.

Republican Senator Rob Bradley basically admitted that he doesn’t care if Florida puts innocent people to death, saying, “this is not about guilt or innocence, it’s about timely justice.” Apparently, in Flordia, convenience is more important than life-or-death justice.

As appalling as Bradley’s comments were, his argument was at least based in reality (a morally deficient one), as opposed to the many legislators who cited scripture as the basis of their claims.

Matt Gaetz, a Republican lawmaker who sponsored the House bill, actually said during the House debate, “Only God can judge. But we sure can set up the meeting.” Last I checked, the constitution made no reference to the judicial power of the mythical being in the sky.

One reporter described the House debate as, “sound[ing] like a church service at times, with quotes like ‘Vengeance is mine, sayeth the lord,’ ‘Genesis 9:6. If man sheds blood, by man shall his blood be shed,’ and ‘Those of you who are without sin, cast the first vote yes’ echoing through the chambers.”

Instead of citing scripture, how about using facts, beginning with this one: Florida inmates spend an average of 13 years on death row, which is already below the national average. On top of leading the country in exonerations, Florida has executed 75 inmates (second only to Texas, which is nearing 500) since resuming capital punishment in the 1970s, which comes out to one exoneration for every 3 executions. And for the past two years in a row, Florida has sentenced more people to death than any other state, a result of its failure to require unanimous jury recommendations for death sentences, among other deficiencies.

Despite all of this, Florida’s GOP, the same party that claims to value life above all else, wants to speed up the death penalty conveyer belt. As more and more states lean towards abolition, Florida seems to be sprinting in the opposite direction, so much so that Gov. Scott is fast tracking inmates to the death chamber with or without signing the Act.

Since entering office in 2011, Scott has signed nine death warrants, three of which were issued recently with executions scheduled over a 26 day stretch beginning May 29. Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise considering this is the same man who axed the commission that oversaw capital cases to save $400,000 per year, a pittance to be exact.

Seth Penalver, who was acquitted last year after spending 13 years on Florida’s death row (18 years behind bars) for a triple murder he did not commit, said that if given the chance he would say the following to Gov. Scott:

“Before he signs it, I would ask him to sit down with those who were convicted and later exonerated or got new trials because of evidence that was withheld. By speeding up the appeals process, are you willing to kill an innocent man? Would you kill me?”

I urge you, particularly Floridians, to contact Gov. Scott’s office and demand he veto this bill. Otherwise I’m afraid his answer to Penalver will be “yes”.

Gov. Rick Scott: 850-488-7146 Email: rick.scott@eog.myflorida.com

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