In an op-ed featured in the Orlando Sentinel, former Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantera says the state should follow in the footsteps of almost all the other death penalty states and require juries be unanimous when recommending taking someone’s life.  Cantera also talks about how broken the Florida death penalty system is.  He recommends a comprehensive review of the state’s capital system and says it is “long overdue” and should begin by considering the 2006 recommendations by the ABA.  Florida has as many as 135 death penalty cases that could be moved to execution under the state’s radical new Timely Justice Act, which was signed into law.  Florida has imposed more death sentences than any other state, but also has more exonerations from death row than any other state.  Why do Florida lawmakers want to speed up the execution process when so many mistakes send innocent people there?  Why not address wrongful convictions first?  Well, the sponsor of the bill Rep. Gaetz claims it is about “justice” and “closure” for the families of the victim.  How does executing an innocent person bring justice or closure?

Timely Justice Act, which, among other things, requires that a list be developed to reflect all active death-penalty cases affirmed on automatic direct appeal to Florida’s Supreme Court wherein “post-conviction relief” was denied.  Post-conviction proceedings are defined, as collateral matters not raised on direct appeal, like ineffective assistance of counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, and new evidence involving innocence.

33% of Florida’s death row qualifies for this speed up in execution.  It’s conceivable that Gov. Rick Scott and his successors will sign more death warrants than their predecessors.  Currently, Texas Governor Rick Perry has presided over more executions than any other governor in U.S. history.  Texas having its own wrongful conviction issues.  House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said he sponsored the Timely Justice Act to speed up post-conviction proceedings and reduce time between sentencing and execution.

Studies indicate that inmates average about 13.22 years on Florida’s death row before execution, less than the national average.  Studies also indicate that the average time an innocent person sits on death row before exoneration is 13.6 years.  So, why speed up executions when they are already faster than checking on whether the inmate is really guilty?  Gov. Rick Scott has said that it “does not fast track death penalty cases…”  So what does it do?  Even lawmakers seem confused about the purpose of this bill.  Currently, there is a Constitutional challenge against the Timely Justice Act pending in court.  Cantera points out that regardless of Constitutionality questions death sentences are best addressed “through a comprehensive review of Florida’s entire death-penalty process by all branches of state government intended to minimize the risk that innocent people (or others who shouldn’t be subject to the death penalty) might be executed.”  The Florida Bar supports this idea.  In March, the Florida Supreme Court established a Capital Postconviction Proceedings Subcommittee to seek input from others, but its scope is extremely limited.  Cantera writes about other Florida death penalty issues that are being ignored amid questions about the Act, “Ironically, controversy involving the Timely Justice Act diverted attention from these issues and other serious concerns about Florida’s death-penalty process documented in a 2006 American Bar Association report, including that Florida is the only state that allows juries to find the requisite “aggravating circumstances” to support capital punishment and recommend death during penalty-phase proceedings by simple majority, e.g. 7-5.”

Florida’s death penalty procedure has repeatedly been deemed insufficient, but continues to be reinstated and with only minor changes.  Over the past several years, attempts have been made to fix and at times eliminate Florida’s broken capital system.  Sen. Thad Altman tried to pass legislation to make death penalty recommendations unanimous by a jury, but it was defeated three times.  Others have tried to eliminate the death penalty due to the very real and tangible risk of executing an innocent person.

“Requiring unanimity would help ensure the death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst,” according to Cantera.

Often people claim that murderers such as Ted Bundy or Aileen Wuornos would have avoided the death penalty given unanimity rules.  These arguments are often made ignoring the innocent people who get the death penalty.  As Cantera points out this logic is flawed.  Research by Scott Sundby at the University of Miami School of Law indicates that an analysis of the Florida capital system would result in a change of nature for Florida jury deliberations.  His research indicates that when 9 or more jurors are in favor of the death penalty, often unanimity can be achieved through further deliberation.


  1. Lon Spector says:

    There shouldn’t be a death penalty to begin with. Two wrongs never make a right, so all the inequality flowing from this barbaric penalty would stop with it’s banishment.


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