Florida Lawmaker Apparently No Fan of Exonerating the Wrongfully Convicted
It’s no secret that Florida has a problem with wrongfully convicting people sentenced to the death penalty. This is evidenced by the 24 death row inmates that have been exonerated and freed from the cages that housed them and the possibility of the state taking their lives. Reason and rationality would certainly lead one to expect Florida policy makers to take this problem seriously and seek ways to ameliorate the menacing injustice of wrongful convictions. But this is Florida we’re talking about.
Last summer, the Florida Innocence Commission, tasked with examining the problems that lead to wrongful convictions and recommending reforms, expired and was allowed to lapse by the legislature. If that wasn’t enough, new legislation was recently introduced in the Florida House by Rep. Matt Gaetz, Chairman of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee, that will severely limit the post-conviction recourse of those convicted and sentenced to death — legislation that will only serve to further exacerbate this problem. The bills, SJR 1740 and SB 1750, would let politicians rather than the Florida Supreme Court determine when someone can request post-conviction relief and would then set those rules in a manner that would make it extremely difficult for attorneys and inmates to challenge death sentences.
It goes without saying that there is no remedying a wrongful execution, which makes Rep. Gaetz’s proposed legislation all the more disturbing. When combined with the already horrid state of affairs in the Florida criminal justice system, limiting the scope of appeals and tying post-conviction relief to the whims of politicians who are always trying to out “tough-on-crime” one another is almost certain to end in the death of innocents in the future.
Rather than trying to ensure that fellow citizens are swiftly executed by the state without proper due process and appellate procedures, Florida legislators should be acting to limit wrongful convictions and these miscarriages of justice. Instead of attempting to expedite death, a good start would be following up on the findings from the Florida Innocence Commission’s final report to further investigate, examine, and reform the problems that lead to wrongful convictions, including “studying false eyewitness identifications, interrogation techniques, false confessions, the use of informants, the handling of forensic evidence, attorney competence and conduct, the processing of cases and the administration of the death penalty.”