Florida justice system gets death penalty all wrong

No matter how you feel about the death penalty, it’s tough to argue that Florida handles it well.

According to a report in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, an eight-member group of lawyers and jurists headed by University of Florida law professor Christopher Slobogin indicted the Florida death penalty for “the number of innocent inmates sent to await execution; a racial disparity that shows those convicted of killing a white victim are far more likely to get a death sentence; the lack of oversight and funding for attorneys who handle death row appeals; and a death sentencing process that requires majority, not unanimous, jury agreement.”

That’s a lot to bite off. It could be argued that Florida gets nothing right at all when it comes to the death penalty, or at least far less than any other state in the union.

“Florida has released more people from death row than any other state,” Slobogin said. “It is small comfort that no one recently executed in Florida has been proven innocent, since some of them were not able to present all the proof they had and efforts at exoneration usually end once the person is dead.”

All told, those exonerated prisoners spent about a century and a half in prison undeservedly. Small wonder, then, that the Associated Press reported the Florida State Supreme Court adopted new DNA procedures on an emergency basis Thursday. According to the AP report, the new law will require “judges to inquire whether physical evidence containing DNA is known to exist that could exonerate the defendant.”

It’s a good idea. Knowledge of whether there is evidence that can exonerate defendants is a step toward having fewer people wrongly convicted. However, that information isn’t required.

That’s right – even with the new rule in place, judges still are not required to postpone judicial proceedings and require DNA tests. In defense of the Florida Supreme Court, however, three judges would have made such testing mandatory. Three wasn’t enough, of course, so judges may have to ask about DNA evidence, but they aren’t required to do anything about it.

American Bar Association President Karen J. Mathis said, “In death penalty cases, where people’s lives are on the line, it is particularly important that we do all we can to ensure that the system is fair.”

Apparently, in Florida, it’s not important enough.