EDITORIALS: "Gov. Scott Should Veto Bill that Speed Up Death Penalty Punishments"
A June 3 editorial in the Sun Sentinel called on Florida Governor Rick Scott (pictured) to veto the Timely Justice Act, a bill passed by the legislature earlier this year that would accelerate executions. The bill requires the governor to sign a death warrant within 30 days of a Supreme Court review, with an execution to follow within 180 days. According to the editorial, flaws in the system, evidenced by death row exonerations, should be sufficient reason to reject a bill that would speed up the death penalty process in the state. The law would give wrongfully convicted inmates approximately eight months to prove their innocence before facing execution. The editorial highlighted the case of former Florida death row inmate Seth Penalver, who spent a dozen years on death row before this conviction was overturned last year. Another inmate, Clemente Javier Aguirre-Jarquin, recently presented DNA evidence that could set him free, seven years after his conviction. The editors concluded, “If the Timely Justice Act were already law, he would not be alive to fight for his own justice.” Twenty four wrongfully convicted inmates have been released from death row in Florida since the mid-1970s, more than any other state in the country. Read full editorial below.
Gov. Scott should veto bill that speed up death penalty punishments
Florida is the state most likely to send the wrong person to death row. Twenty-four times since the mid-1970s, we have sentenced an innocent person to death. Twenty-four times. No other state has racked up more exonerations.
So tell us again why we need a law that speeds up executions?
Known flaws in the system are the biggest reason why Gov. Rick Scott should veto the Timely Justice Act, a bill recently passed by the Florida Legislature that would super-charge the death penalty process.
The legislation would require the governor to sign a death warrant within 30 days of a Supreme Court review, with execution to follow within 180 days.
The law would give wrongly condemned inmates about eight months to prove their innocence before our government puts them to death.
And remember, there are no take-backs in the lethal-injections business. That fact alone should guide the governor's decision.
The New York Times recently reported on another Florida death-row inmate, Clemente Javier Aguirre-Jarquin, who has presented DNA evidence that could set him free. It took seven years for the evidence to surface. If the Timely Justice Act were already law, he would not be alive to fight for his own justice. As it stands, he appears poised to become the state's 25th death-row inmate to be exonerated.
Also remember Broward resident Seth Penalver, who was wrongly convicted of first-degree murder and spent a dozen years on death row before his conviction was overturned last year. His life is Exhibit A for the mistakes made in Florida's death penalty system.
Florida has always had a love affair with the death penalty. It was the first state to reintroduce capital punishment after the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 cleared the way. We also won the race to perform the first involuntary execution seven years later.
Since 1973, Florida has carried out capital punishment 76 times. The last occurred last week, with two more scheduled in the next month. For each man, their stays on death row exceeded 20 years.
Proponents of speedier executions say decades-long waits are an affront to justice, as well as to victims' families. In overwhelmingly passing their bills, the Senate and House of Representatives were bent on slashing the 13-year average length of stay, though the national average is higher, at 14 years.
But skimping on due process — and wrongly killing innocent people — is too high a price to pay for speedy justice.
Many Florida death row residents end up there due to a lack of wealth, no access to qualified defense attorneys, racial bias and poorly instructed juries, according to a study carried out seven years ago by the American Bar Association. The inequalities still exist.
We understand the desire of lawmakers to appear tough on crime. It's why we have laws like Stand Your Ground and a justice system that sends more juveniles to prison than any other state.
But cleaning out death row by shortening the time for appeals defines "rush to judgment."
"Only God can judge," said Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who sponsored the House bill. "But we sure can set up the meeting."
"This is not about guilt or innocence, it's about timely justice," said Republican Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park.
Timely justice for whom?
The governor should veto the bill or leave it unsigned to die a timely death.
(Editorial Board, "Gov. Scott should veto bill that speed up death penalty punishments," The Sun Sentinel, June 3, 2013). The Miami Herald has also called on Gov. Scott to veto the bill. See Innocence. Read more Editorials on the death penalty.