From the Miami Herald:
With the stroke of a pen, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy abolished the death penalty last week making that state the 17th in the country to abandon capital punishment.
In the last five years, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Illinois also have repealed the death penalty. California voters will decide the issue in November.
Also last week, with pen in hand, Florida Gov. Rick Scott eliminated funding for the crucial Florida Innocence Commission created by the Florida Supreme Court to study wrongful convictions and advocate for reform. It’s set to expire in June.
Since 1973, an incredible 140 people in 26 states have been released from death row after evidence emerged of their innocence. Florida leads the list with 23 innocent people who were wrongly condemned to be executed.
Given the enormity of what’s at stake, and the knowledge that innocent people have been executed for crimes they did not commit, Florida cannot afford to do without the Innocence Commission.
Since July 2008, when the state’s Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act took effect, a dozen claims worth millions of dollars have been filed by innocent people imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit, another indicator of the grievous mistakes we know are made in the criminal justice system.
The high cost to taxpayers of death row appeals — $1.26 million per case, according to Amnesty International — and the financial and emotional burden on victims’ families, who often attend hearings for years, is onerous.
Last year, the Legislature appropriated a minuscule amount of money for the commission — $200,000. Another $114,000 came from a Florida Bar Foundation grant. Absent ongoing support, the commission was set to expire in June.
Meanwhile, North Carolina, California, Connecticut, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are among 10 states continuing to learn and right wrongs through the work of Innocence Commissions. In 2003, the Illinois legislature passed 85 recommendations made by its special commission.
For years, Connecticut’s Gov. Malloy supported the death penalty, but had a change of heart. He said the growing list of people sentenced to death, and later found to be innocent, was impossible to ignore. Ultimately, ending the death penalty was the only way to prevent injustice in a fallible system.
The Florida Innocence Commission, with Orange/Osceola Chief Judge Belvin Perry, Jr. at the helm, was tasked with studying false eyewitness identifications, interrogation techniques, false confessions, the use of informants, the handling of forensic evidence, attorney competence and conduct, the processing of cases and the administration of the death penalty.
“We cannot ignore what must be done in order to improve our ever-evolving criminal justice system,” Perry wrote in an interim report. “We must continue to be vigilant in seeking and maintaining the spirit of cooperation between the courts, law enforcement, and other agencies in identifying issues and implementing solutions.”
The death penalty is slowly on its way out in this country. Unfortunately, Florida must first elect a governor and political leaders courageous enough to end this government-sanctioned murder.
The Florida Innocence Commission should be kept in place as the check and balance on a flawed system that administers our society’s ultimate penalty.
Without constant oversight, all we are left with is the same criminal justice system that wrongfully convicted these individuals in the first place.