An eight-member panel convened by the American Bar Association and consisting of prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges concluded a two-year study of Florida’s death penalty system. The panel unanimously proposed extensive changes to improve the accuracy and fairness of the state’s system. “Despite the best efforts of many legislators, judges and lawyers, much more needs to be done to ensure that Florida’s death penalty system avoids executing the innocent,” said University of Florida law professor Christopher Slobogin, the panel’s chairman. “Florida has released more people from death row than any other state, which suggests the system has serious problems.” Florida has freed 22 death row inmates who were exonerated since 1973.

The panel recommended requiring a unanimous jury verdict on eligibility for the death penalty before judges can impose a death sentence. Among other recommendations from the panel were:

  • Creating a commission to investigate wrongful convictions in capital cases and propose methods to prevent them.
  • Creating a second commission to review factual claims of innocence.
  • Adopting new standards on the qualifications and compensation of death penalty lawyers and appeals lawyers.
  • Drafting protocols to determine what cases should be eligible for the death penalty.
  • Studying racial disparities in capital punishment cases.
  • Establishing new rules for clemency.

This is the fourth in a series of state reviews conducted under the ABA’s Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project. The other states reviewed so far by similar ABA panels are Georgia, Alabama and Arizona.
(Associated Press, Sept. 17, 2006). To review the ABA’s Press Release, Executive Summary and the full Florida Report, as well as reports on other states, click here. See also Studies and Innocence.