September 17, 2006
ABA produces mega-report assailing Florida's death penalty
As detailed in articles here and here and here, the American Bar Association's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project has released a massive report on Florida's capital punishment system. This link provides access the 400+ page report and its 40+ page executive summary. According to one newspaper account, the ABA report says that "Florida's death penalty system is plagued with problems of fairness, accuracy and racial disparity in sentencing."
As explained in this post when the ABA released a similar report on Georgia's system, I am troubled by the ABA's decision to allocate so many resources to death penalty studies, especially in states where relatively few defendants actually get executed. According to the ABA report, from 1972 to 1999, 857 defendants were sentenced to death in Florida. But, as of today, Florida has executed only 60 persons in the last three decades and the state currently has 376 defendants on death row. With Florida averaging roughly two executions per year, it is clear a murderer sentenced to death in Florida is more likely to serve a functional life sentence than to be executed.
As I have explained before, I am amazed and annoyed how much energy is spent trying to ensure that a bunch of murderers get to spend a bit more time locked in a cage before they die, especially since I believe that there are far greater injustices in our criminal justice system than what we see in the (over-analyzed) death penalty system. There are at least 132,000 persons in the US serving life imprisonment, some for petty crimes because of a personal history as a small-time thief or drug dealer. And, of the more than 2,000,000 persons in jail or prison, nearly half are serving time for non-violent offenses. To focus on Florida, statistics here and here and here, there are almost 10,000 defendants serving life sentences in the state. Perhaps over 30,000 persons are imprisoned in Florida for potentially non-violent offenses involving drugs and burglary.
Though I doubt there are many sweethearts in Florida's prisons, why should only the death sentences of convicted murderers come under the ABA's microscope? In my view, there are many defendants who merit the time and attention of groups like the ABA a lot more than murderers on death row.
Coming soon to a Law & Order near you
Providing rich material for a "ripped from the headlines" episode of Law & Order, this AP article tells the interesting story behind the recent sentencing of a 87-year-old woman to more than 31 years in prison for having killed a 13-year-old boy in 1975:
Maria Josefa Otero fled 30 years ago before she could be sentenced for killing Johnny Perez in 1975. Now 87 years old, Otero was arrested at a Miami apartment in April. In 1976, she had been found guilty of second-degree murder, but a judge allowed her out on $50,000 bond to get her personal affairs in order before sentencing. Otero fled, spending time in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico before returning to Miami 15 years ago, police said....
Prosecutor Audrey Frank-Aponte had asked for a sentence of 31 years, six months and three days — the time between Johnny's death and her arrest — but Miami-Dade Circuit Judge David Young rounded off the last three days. Young said he would have given her a lesser sentence, but her lack of remorse made him do otherwise. "You never felt guilty. I did not see any remorse. I hope that sometime you will feel remorse," Young said.