Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the Timely Justice Act of 2013 into law on Friday, a measure designed to accelerate the state’s capital punishment process.
Florida is currently burdened with 405 death row inmates, more than any other state except California. The Timely Justice Act is seen as a way to remove that burden.
The bill creates tighter timeframes for appeals and post-conviction motions, and includes reporting requirements on case progress. It also establishes a separate agency to provide appellate-level legal representation to death row inmates and requires them to pursue all remedies in state court.
According to the bill’s requirement, an execution must occur within 180 days of the governor signing a death warrant.
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Scott said the bill would remove a “crushing burden” of uncertainty facing victims’ families, many who wait an average of 22 years before execution and after judicial appeals have been exhausted.
"An inmate who has been on death row for 22 years has had a fair opportunity to discover all of the evidence needed to challenge his conviction,” Scott said, “especially when the inmate has received the multiple levels of review and the extraordinary due process afforded death-sentenced offenders.”
Seth Penalver, a former death row inmate who was exonerated after hiring a private investigator, protested Scott’s signing of the bill by attending William Van Poyck’s execution. Penalver spent 18 years in prison before a jury relieved his charges of third degree murder, armed robbery and armed burglary. Under the Timely Justice Act, Penalver would have been executed.
Since the mid 1970s, the state has executed 77 people. However, under the Timely Justice Act, that number is expected to skyrocket.