Speed Kills

May 20, 2013

Although Florida makes more death row mistakes than any other state, Governor Rick Scott is signing more death warrants and he's considering a bill that would shorten appeals (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images).
Florida Governor Rick Scott (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images).

Is Governor Rick Scott of Florida trying to speed up his state’s death penalty? He’s signing more death warrants (three executions are currently scheduled over the next month), and he’s considering a bill passed by the legislature that would shorten appeals.

He of course can, and should, veto this bill – known euphemistically as the “Timely Justice Act” – and we should all urge him to do so.

Florida has the nation’s most error-prone death penalty, having seen more death row inmates exonerated (24) than any other state. And it’s possible that a 25th is on the way. With 75 executions since its death penalty was reinstated, Florida has set free one person from death row for every three that have been executed.

The national rate, still appallingly high, is about one for ten. Which, not coincidentally, is the name of an important film project whose organizers have been crisscrossing the country interviewing death row exonerees.

Their most recent interview was with Florida exoneree Juan Melendez, who spent nearly 18 years on the Sunshine State’s death row. In the petition linked to above Juan writes that:

“Had it not been for the fortuitous discovery of the transcript of a taped confession of the real killer, 16 years after I had been sentenced to death, I would not be alive today.”

His story is not unique.

Two other Florida exonerees recently called for the Governor to veto the “Timely Justice Act,” arguing that, in the words of Seth Penalver:

“If the bill would have been in effect at the time of me being sentenced, I wouldn’t be here talking to you today.”

The other exoneree, Herman Lindsey, put it more succinctly: “You’re going to put innocent men to death.”

Injecting more speed into a capital punishment system that regularly clatters off the rails is a terrible idea. Governor Scott, or anyone else truly concerned with justice, should be seeking to slow things down.

Better yet, the state of Florida should just bring the whole thing to a halt.