Death Row inmates would face executions sooner after they are sentenced under a measure on its way to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.
The “Timely Justice Act,” approved by the Florida Senate on Monday, revamps a system that critics say traumatizes the families of victims by allowing convicts to languish for decades on Death Row. The House approved the proposal last week.
The bill (HB 7083) creates shorter time frames for death penalty appeals and post-conviction motions and takes away some of the governor’s discretion about when to order an execution. It also ends and privatized pilot program re-establishes a separate public agency for north Florida to provide appellate-level legal representation to inmates sentenced to death and requires it to “pursue all possible remedies in state court.”
The Senate passed the bill with a 28-10 vote Monday afternoon despite the objections of some Democrats who said the fast-track process the bill creates would put the wrongly convicted at risk.
“Once the execution is completed, it’s over. There’s no going back,” said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, a former prosecutor. “I don’t see the reason for the swiftness especially with DNA evidence that can exonerate.”
Florida has had 24 Death Row inmates who were exonerated after they were convicted — the most of any any state — including one who was found to be innocent after he died on Death Row.
But Sen. Joe Negron, the bill’s sponsor, said the changes are necessary to bring justice to victims. The average length of time between arrest and execution in Florida is 20 years, and 10 Death Row inmates have been awaiting execution for more than three decades, Negron said before the vote.
The delay makes “a mockery of the court system,” Negron, R-Stuart, said. Court and jury decisions “at some point…needs to be carried out.”
Florida has 405 inmates on Death Row, the most of any state in the country except for California.
It also is the only state in the nation that allows a simple majority of the jury on capital cases. Critics of the bill had tried to change it to require a 10-2 majority of the jury as Alabama requires. All other states with the death penalty require unanimous jury decisions.
If Scott signs the bill or allows it to become law without his approval, 13 Death Row inmates would fit its criteria, meaning the governor who has signed nine death warrants in the 29 months since he took office could have to order 13 executions within six months.