By Mark D. Killian
Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that legislative supporters say will speed up the death penalty appeals process.
The governor, however, maintains it will do no such thing.
After signing “The Timely Justice Act of 2013” (HB 7083), Gov. Scott released a statement that said: “The bill does nothing to speed up the execution process. The bill makes technical amendments to current law and provides clarity and transparency to legal proceedings.
“It preserves and affirms the inmate’s existing rights to 1) a direct appeal; 2) a state post-conviction hearing; 3) a post-conviction appeal; 4) a federal habeas-corpus proceeding; and 5) a federal habeas corpus appeal.”
The governor’s office also said: “Nothing in this bill alters the current protections afforded by the courts or the clemency process and adds protections to inmates by removing ineffective counsel.”
Here is what the bill will do:
* Reestablishes a Capital Collateral Regional Counsel (CCRC) office for the northern part of the state;
* Revises the experience requirements for private attorneys with whom the CCRC may contract to provide capital collateral representation;
* Requires the Supreme Court to report annually to the Legislature on the status of each capital case in which a post-conviction action has been filed that has been continuously pending for more than three years, including the name of the judge involved in the case;
* Directs the courts, under certain conditions, to tell The Florida Bar of findings that an attorney provided deficient representation;
* Prohibits an attorney from representing a person charged with a capital offense or a person sentenced to death in a post-conviction proceeding for five years if, in two separate instances, a court in a capital post-conviction proceeding determined that the attorney provided constitutionally deficient representation and relief was granted; and
* Establishes a process for the clerk of the Supreme Court to notify the governor when certain post-conviction activity is completed and for the governor to issue a warrant.
Opponents of the act worry that accelerating the appeals process may limit the ability of the truly innocent to prove their case before the sentence is carried out.
But Gov. Scott said: “Not a single one of the 24 ‘exonerated’ inmates identified by the Death Penalty Information Center would have been certified as eligible for a death warrant under the requirements of HB 7083, because none of them had exhausted their legal remedies.”
As part of the legislative give and take, Chief Justice Ricky Polston created a special Capital Post-conviction Proceedings Subcommittee to review the death penalty procedural rules process and to make recommendations to the court by September.
Once that subcommittee was created, a provision was amended from the original measure that would have proposed a constitutional amendment to strip the Florida Supreme Court of its rulemaking authority over capital collateral death penalty cases.
The state budget also contains a $50,000 appropriation to create a database to track death row cases, noting where each case is in the system, and what legal issues are pending.
The House approved the measure 84-34 and the Senate 28-10.
“The bill does not address the time frame of appeals, but rather affirms appellate, and post-conviction remedies, before the clemency process begins,” the governor wrote. “Bottom line, before a death warrant is signed, the legislation mandates that an inmate must still go through a long and thorough review process.”