Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project Releases Florida Report
The ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project released its fourth state assessment report on Sept. 17. The report, Evaluating Fairness and Accuracy in State Death Penalty Systems: The Florida Death Penalty Assessment Report, identifies a number of problems in Florida’s death penalty system that undermine its fairness and accuracy, and the report also includes a number of proposed areas for reform that would help to improve Florida’s current death penalty system. Research was conducted by the Florida Death Penalty Assessment Team, an in-state team of current and former prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers, and law school professors.
The Assessment Team specifically highlighted eleven problem areas in the state system, including: the high number of death-row exonerations (22 since 1973); the failure to ensure that lawyers assigned to represent capital defendants during the post-conviction process are qualified and adequately compensated; the continued existence of racial and charging disparities in capital sentencing, the fact that unanimity is not required in jury sentencing decisions; the failure to give sufficient weight to the mitigating effects of serious mental disability; and the level of secrecy surrounding the clemency process.
To address the eleven problem areas, the Team made eleven corresponding recommendations, in addition to the ninety-three ABA recommendations contained in the report. The Team’s recommendations include: the creation of a commission that would investigate wrongful convictions in capital cases and propose methods of preventing them; the creation of a second commission to review claims of factual innocence; the adoption of new standards governing the qualification and compensation of post-conviction attorneys; a prohibition of death sentences that are not the result of a unanimous jury verdict; further study of the racial impact of capital punishment; new standards governing the legal relevance of serious mental disability at trial and after sentencing; and new rules making the clemency process more transparent.As of this issue’s printing, the report was covered by many mainstream press outlets, including, the Associated Press, Inter Press Service News Agency, St. Petersburg Times, Miami Herald, Florida Sun-Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, Bradenton Herald, Tallahassee Democrat, Tampa Tribune, Florida Today, and various Florida television and radio stations. In addition, the St. Petersburg Times published an opinion piece on the report written by the Chair of the Florida Death Penalty Assessment Team, Chris Slobogin, and the St. Petersburg Times, Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, Tallahassee Democrat, Daytona Beach News-Journal, and Florida Today all published editorials in support of the report’s conclusions