With states across the US continuing to reconsider the morality of the death penality – five states have completely abolished the act in just the last six years alone – it’s safe to assume Florida won’t be added to that list anytime in the near future.
Instead, Gov. Rick Scott (R) is currently mulling a series of capital-punishment reforms seeking to speed up the process by limiting frivolous appeals by inmates attempting to delay their pending execution date.
Known as the “Timely Justice Act,” the bill ultimately sets deadlines for convicted killers to file appeals, and for the state to move forward with issuing warrants once the Florida Supreme Court upholds death sentences.
Currently, the Sunshine State’s execution rate is second in the nation only to Texas. Florida has approximately 400 inmates on death row – ten of whom have been there for more than 35 years.
Although legislators behind the controversial bill are claiming it will save the state’s taxpayers money and bring needed closure to victim’s families, legal advocates are justifiably concerned that such an act would raise the possibility of executing an innocent individual.
"Is swift justice fair justice?" asked Democratic party Senator Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa attorney who voted against the bill. "We have seen cases where, years later, convicted people were exonerated.”
And for skeptics who may disagree with Joyner’s argument, statistics are tough to ignore: Since 1970, 24 people on Florida’s Death Row have eventually been exonerated.
For some, like Matt Gaetz, a Republican who sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives last week, such stats alone aren't enough to slow the process down.
"Only God can judge," he said during a debate in the House last week. "But we sure can set up the meeting."
Florida currently has the most lenient laws in the nation in regards to convicting someone of a capital crime – a jury can recommend a death sentence with only a simple majority vote of 7 to 5. Such a scenario exists in Florida alone.
Proponents of the Timely Justice Act have cited the state’s court system, which is among the worst indigent defense systems in the country, as one of the primary motivators behind the proposed reform.
Florida’s budget crisis has led to severe cuts in funding for the state’s public defense system, meaning lawyers who take on capital cases are largely incompetent.
In a notable case that sparked national attention, mentally ill death row inmate Albert Holland Jr. won a U.S. Supreme Court case after Justice Stephen Boyer determined Holland actually did a better job of defending himself than his court-appointed attorney did.