Faster Executions in Florida; New Bill Signed by Gov. Rick Scott
On Friday 14th, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law that is aimed at accelerating the pace of the death penalty process in Florida.
The signing of this “fast track” legislation called “the Timely Justice Act”, requires the governor to sign a death warrant within 30 days after a review by the State Supreme Court. After the signature, the new law requires the state to execute the defendant within six months.
The bill also bars attorneys from using certain defense strategies, and gives judges tighter time-frames to consider appeals and post-conviction motions, such as whether a defendant should get a new trial due to lawyer incompetence.
Scott aggressively countered allegations by opponents that the law would “fast track” death penalty cases, in a lengthy letter, emphasizing that it “discourages stalling tactics” of defense attorneys and ensures that the convicted “do not languish on death row for decades.”
There are currently 404 people awaiting execution in Florida, including 155 who have languished on death row for more than 20 years, and 10 who have waited longer than 35 years. The present average wait for an execution in Florida is 13 years. Florida law even allows a defendant who is not responsible for a murder to receive a death sentence.
Since 1976, Florida has executed 76 people, but has exonerated 23 others, many of whom spent more than a decade on death row. Advances in DNA in particular have led to death row inmates being exonerated for crimes committed 20 years ago or more. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Florida has the highest number of innocent people freed from death row.
Opponents warn that the accelerated clock will diminish the opportunity to exonerate anyone on death row who has been wrongly convicted, reduce the opportunity to challenge convictions because of ineffective counsel, and produce a “bloodbath” of executions in the next month.
Frank Jannuzi, deputy executive director for Amnesty International USA, issued the following statement after Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the “Timely Justice Act of 2013”. „This law will speed up the pace of death penalty executions in Florida.“ “While two thirds of the world’s countries and one third of U.S. states have abandoned capital punishment, it is shameful that the state of Florida is accelerating its flawed and dysfunctional death penalty system.“
“Two dozen people have been exonerated from Florida’s death row due to evidence of their innocence. The state with the second most exonerates, Illinois, took the appropriate action – first halting executions and then abolishing the death penalty altogether.“
“Florida is headed in the wrong direction. By speeding up its broken death penalty, it is already on the wrong side of history. It needs to do a U-turn before it does more irreparable harm.”
This measure has been promoted by the same legislators who approved the “Stand Your Ground” law, which promotes vigilante justice. They reason that delaying executions is an affront to justice, especially for victims’ families, and that only a state-sponsored killing can allow the remaining family members to have peace or “closure.”
Perhaps the most compelling example of the type of justice meted out by the Florida death penalty system is the life and death of Gary Alvord, who sat on death row in Florida for 39 years before dying of natural causes on May 19 due to a brain tumor. Alvord’s attorney, Bill Sheppard of Jacksonville, has explained that “Gary is a product of a sick system. He was a living example of why we should not have a death penalty.”
While death warrants were signed, Alvord was never actually executed due to mental illness. Doctors refused to treat him and restore him to competence, citing the ethical dilemma of making him well only to get killed right after. Alvord’s attorney said he would love for the State of Florida to tell us how much money they wasted trying to kill a guy they couldn’t kill and that the death penalty was only getting Florida broke.
Since 2007, six US states have abolished capital punishment, citing the expense of fighting the appeals process and inefficiencies in a system that could lead to wrongful executions of the innocent. The US stands apart from the vast majority of industrialized nations that have outlawed the brutal practice. Since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, 1,333 condemned individuals have been sent to their deaths, including 76 in Florida.