Florida Governor Charlie Crist recently chose two death row inmates for execution from among many eligible prisoners on the state’s death row, but no reasons were given for his choice. He joins a long line of Florida governors who made the decision of who lives and who dies without explanation of their selection method. “I don’t know how they decide,” said John Marek’s lawyer, Marty McClain, a veteran death-row attorney who has defended hundreds of inmates. (Marek was one of those given an execution date, but the date was stayed by the courts.) “Over the years I have wanted to know the answer to that question.” Florida determines the order of execution by the Governor’s discretion, whereas other states, such as Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, and California, place the responsibility with the court system. Defense attorneys have little grounds to challenge this unregulated and secretive process. “It’s the epitome of how arbitrary it is,” said Elisabeth Semel, director of the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California- Berkeley.

Attorneys for death row inmates have had to observe the governors’ patterns to try and discern if their client could be next. Gov. Jeb Bush seemed to lean toward those who had waived their appeals, signing more than 2 dozen death warrants, of which 21 resulted in an execution. Gov. Bob Martinez signed more death warrants than anyone, although they rarely resulted in an execution. In four years, he set a record with 139 death warrants, of which only 9 were carried out. His approach overwhelmed the court system, as case after case was delayed since death warrants were signed for prisoners who hadn’t even filed appeals in federal court. “He wanted to keep pressure on defense attorneys,” McClain said. “It was a really horrible experience.” Following in his predecessors’ footsteps, Crist declined to explain his execution selection process. In the past two-plus years in office, he has signed 5 death warrants, of which 3 have been carried out. Florida has 402 inmates on death row, the second largest in the country after California.
(S. Lundy, “Only Florida’s Governors Can Say How They Pick Execution Order,” Orlando Sentinel, May 19, 2009). See Arbitrariness.