The Tallahassee Democrat

If an automaker led the industry in recalls, then spun the bad news as proof of excellent self-regulation, consumers would be skeptical. The automaker might deserve kudos for its efforts to rectify problems, but the high recall rate still would indicate a serious problem. A responsible company would identify the deficiency before so many recalls were required.

That’s why it’s so difficult to understand the reasoning of Florida death penalty advocates who resist calls for a moratorium to thoroughly examine the administration of justice in capital cases.

In 2000, nine death sentences in Florida were overturned, the highest number in the nation, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report released Tuesday. Yet, defenders of the system insist that such statistics prove the system works, since defendants in those cases aren’t executed - at least until they’re retried without legal error.

That’s of no small consequence, of course, but Florida’s high rate of overturned capital convictions remains troubling. It alone warrants a temporary suspension of executions - as Gov. George Ryan of Illinois ordered in his state - so problems in the process can be identified and fixed.

The American Bar Association has been at the forefront of a national moratorium campaign, but has been careful to point out that it is not against capital punishment. The campaign includes supporters and opponents of the death penalty who are united in their belief that more scrutiny is needed.

More than 50 local government boards in cities and towns across the United States have adopted resolutions urging their governors and legislatures to declare a moratorium. Steve Hanlon, a Tallahassee attorney and moratorium activist, said the City Commission here may soon be asked to join them.

While there is certainly no groundswell of support for a moratorium at our Capitol, recent national polls indicate a growing level of concern about unfairness in the criminal justice system, and an increasing number of people who back a moratorium.

No system is flawless. But the finality of the death penalty demands that its administration be as near-perfect as is humanly possible.