June 26, 2011
Does Casey Anthony case really "show Florida's death-penalty system is broken"?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable recent commentary in the Orlando Sentinel, which is healined "Casey Anthony case, others show Florida's death-penalty system is broken." Here are excerpts:
Support of the death penalty is almost a prerequisite to holding statewide office in Florida. Kill more. Kill them faster. But this political agenda is clashing ever more often with the constitutional requirement of due process.
And so we are spending millions of dollars sentencing far more people to death than we can possibly kill. The result has been a growing glut of death-row inmates. Consider these statistics:
- Since the 1970s, Virginia has executed 121 inmates. It currently has 14 death-row inmates.
- Oklahoma has had 96 executions. It currently has 85 death-row inmates.
- Florida has had 69 executions. We have 399 inmates on death row.
At our current pace of executions, it would take 200 years to clear them out. More people on Florida's death row have been exonerated, resentenced to a prison term or died while awaiting execution than have been executed.
The 23 inmates exonerated and set free are the most of any state, making our system the most error-prone in the country. Some of these inmates were obviously innocent. Some probably were guilty, but trial errors, prosecutorial misconduct or other issues nullified their convictions. Ironically, if these freed inmates had been sentenced to life in prison without parole instead of death, they probably would still be in jail because they wouldn't have had access to the scrutiny and appeals granted death-row inmates....
There also is no rhyme or reason to which cases are pursued as capital crimes. The original purpose of the death penalty was to execute the worst of the worst. But legislators have consistently expanded the types of crimes eligible for the death sentence, so now it can be pursued with most all murder charges. This gives state attorneys wide leeway in deciding what cases to pursue as death-penalty cases. Most state attorneys don't have written guidelines, making their decisions completely arbitrary.
Sometimes they are driven by politics, as with Casey Anthony. This is not a death-penalty case, and in the unlikely event she is sentenced to death, it will be overturned on appeal.
So why pursue it? A death case requires jurors who state beforehand they are willing to impose a death sentence. Such jurors are more prone to deliver guilty verdicts. If you have a shaky, circumstantial case in a high-profile trial like this, you increase the odds of a conviction by stacking the deck with a death jury....
All this comes with a cost. Death cases are very expensive because they require two trials, one establishing guilt and the second to impose the sentence. Then come years of appeals. One death-row inmate had his case reviewed 20 times by state and federal courts before his sentence was reduced to life in prison. Judge Eaton cites estimates that each execution costs Florida about $20 million....
And yet this year Gov. Rick Scott and legislators abolished the Commission on Capital Cases, a small state agency that tracks cases, keeps statistics and makes recommendations to the courts and lawmakers.
June 26, 2011 at 05:34 PM | Permalink
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I'm glad journalists are finally pointing this out. For years I've wondered why the governors of Florida, Scott and Christ, were so uninterested in signing death warrants, when upwards of 30 inmates have exhausted their appeals or volunteered to drop their appeals. Add to that the already glacial pace of appeals, which simply do not need to take that long. Even with all the work and fact finding the Florida Commission on Capital Cases has done nothing has changed.
Posted by: MikeinCT | Jun 26, 2011 6:03:48 PM
What the article unintentionally shows is that Florida should indeed scrap its death penalty procedures -- and adopt Virginia's.
Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 26, 2011 6:22:13 PM
All Florida appellate judges should be on a boycott list. No service or product provider is to supply or serve them. Exclude them from all organizations, including churches. If one passes on the street, all passers by spit on them. Drive them all out of state. They are not protecting due process. They are stealing taxpayer money. Their decisions are all in bad faith to generate lawyer business. Stealing.
Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 26, 2011 7:23:54 PM
I have discussed this with legislators and former Attorney General Bill McCollum who ran against Scott for the Republican nomination for Governor. He didn't want to answer me. I suggested that there be a law that required the Governor to sign warrants upon receipt from the Attorney General's office that an inmate had exhausted appeals. Also, I recommended changing the statute to authorize the Attorney General to file with the state circuit court or the Florida Supreme Court to set the execution dates, removing the Executive Branch from the process except for clemency. Most states do it this way. This would eliminate the possibility when a Governor such as Crist would not sign them. My proposals fell on deaf ears.
Posted by: DaveP | Jun 26, 2011 7:47:07 PM
"If you have a shaky, circumstantial case in a high-profile trial like this, you increase the odds of a conviction by stacking the deck with a death jury...."
The most important sentence in the article. In a non-capital case, why not file an equal protection motion claiming jury by peers is impossible because the jury cannot be death qualified.
Posted by: George | Jun 26, 2011 9:11:36 PM
Keep trying. One thing we can learn from our opponents is that persistence pays. In the meantime, thank you for your efforts.
Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 26, 2011 9:26:31 PM
Here is a list of Florida death-row inmates whose appeals have been exhausted at least through the 11th Circuit: http://www.cncpunishment.com/forums/showthread.php?3843-Update-on-Florida-Death-Row-Inmate-Status&highlight=florida+status
Posted by: alpino | Jun 27, 2011 11:29:54 AM