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Changes coming for Florida's death penalty system

3:14 PM, Jun 24, 2013   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida is moving to a new death penalty system designed to reduce delays.

State lawmakers passed the "Timely Justice Act" last spring to create specific time frames for appeals and legal motions.

Supporters of the bill argued it made no sense to allow inmates to remain on death row for 30 years or more. Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill, saying it would improve the orderly administration of capital punishment in Florida.

But opponents say Florida is charging ahead with executions at a time when a more careful review of the system is warranted.

"The state of Florida, we lead the nation, we have had 24 people who have received death sentences who've been exonerated, but the bad news is that we also led the country in the number of death sentences in 2012. So we clearly are a state that is fully engaged even though other states are getting rid of executions and the death penalty," said Sheila Hopkins of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The new law requires the governor to sign a death warrant within 30 days once appeals are exhausted, as well as the governor's clemency review.

Under the law, taking effect July 1, the governor controls the time frame for clemency reviews, so Hopkins fears that could increase the risk of executing an innocent person.

"I think that that is the most onerous part of the bill. The governor's office feels that they can control it. They feel that they are establishing without a doubt whether this person is innocent or guilty so they're feeling comfortable about it. But I think other people are not as comfortable that, in fact, this person may not be the guilty party."

Hopkins said one positive provision in the law is that it recreates the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel in Tallahassee. That office was closed a decade ago under the administration of former Gov. Jeb Bush.

The idea then was to turn over some death penalty cases to private attorneys to try to save the state money.

However, the quality of their work faced questions. Former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero said some private lawyers provided death row inmates with "some of the worst lawyering I have seen."

Dave Heller

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