Florida Rep. Wants To Limit Death Penalty Appeals In State With Most Exonerated Death Row Inmates

A Florida state representative wants to prevent people sentenced to death from getting a full review of their case, despite Florida leading the nation in people exonerated after being sentenced to die.

Like most death penalty states, Florida has a web of state-level appeals processes and additional checks to ensure that every aspect of a case is thoroughly examined before an accused criminal is executed. This system is expensive and often cruel, which is why many death penalty advocates cite extended death row wait times during the appellate process as a reason to abolish the system altogether (indeed, there’s a bill in the Florida state legislature that proposes to do just that). But Rep. Matt Gaetz (R) has a different view:

Every death penalty defendant deserves a fair trial. In Florida, they even get a mandatory appeal to the Supreme Court. But after the Supreme Court has spoken all subsequent appeals should be limited.

The problem with Gaetz’ “solution,” as Radley Balko notes, is that Florida leads the nation in death row exonerations. 24 people have been exonerated after being sentenced to die in Florida since the state reinstituted the death penalty in the 70s. That’s a full quarter of all slated executions in Florida during that time period.

Gaetz’ stated reason for wanting to shorten the appeal process is that it deters crime. He cites a study that purports to find “one less murder is committed for every 2.75-years reduction in death row waits.” This research is widely viewed as discredited. One scholar who reviewed the work found it “fraught with technical and conceptual errors: inappropriate methods of statistical analysis, failures to consider all the relevant factors that drive murder rates, missing data on key variables in key states, the tyranny of a few outlier states and years, and the absence of any direct test of deterrence.” The National Academy of Science believes the evidence that the death penalty deters crime in any fashion is so poor that it “should not influence policy judgments about capital punishment.” A National Research Council review came to a similar conclusion.

Aside from the cost and the failure to deter crime, capital sentencing also turns as much on race as on the nature of the crime.