Proposal to allow Florida death row inmates to run for re-election sparks opposition

TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Supreme Court is considering a proposal that would allow death row inmates to represent themselves in certain court proceedings, an idea that has drawn opposition from defense attorneys, prosecutors and advocacy groups. Mental Health.

Judges last week scheduled a February 10 hearing on the proposal, which focuses on circuit court proceedings that take place after the defendants are convicted and sentenced to death. “Post-conviction” proceedings often involve questions such as whether defendants received adequate legal representation in their trials or whether newly discovered evidence might exonerate them.

The proposal, which was released in May, has drawn opposition from a wide range of groups who argue that death row inmates are not qualified to represent themselves in the often complicated proceedings, including many inmates. suffering from mental illness.

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“Florida law does not protect death row defendants with severe mental illness from execution despite significant obstacles to their ability to fully participate in capital proceedings,” said a document filed in August by Florida. Mental Health Advocacy Coalition. “This problem is exacerbated in the death sentence after conviction, a particularly complicated part of the death penalty process, even for the most experienced lawyers. the proposed amendments ignore this reality and must be rejected.

Five state prosecutors filed comments in September opposing the proposed change. Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, for example, wrote that the defendants were unlikely to “be able to competently represent themselves in a death sentence context” – a view taken by the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

“You cannot expect an accused on death row who wishes to prosecute (representing himself) to have the training and legal expertise that this (Supreme) Court requires from a lawyer who would represent that court. accused, ”the group of defense lawyers wrote in October. . “A large portion of inmates on Florida death row also suffer from mental health issues, adding to the complication of self-advocacy.”

The proposal does not specify why the Supreme Court is considering the change. But in 2014, when the Supreme Court passed a rule that prohibited death row inmates from representing themselves in such proceedings, Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston opposed that part of the rule.

Canady, now Chief Justice, wrote in a brief dissent that he was not in favor of “prohibiting defendants in capital post-conviction proceedings from representing themselves.”

The Supreme Court has undergone a major ideological shift to the right in the past three years, after Republican Governor Ron DeSantis was able to replace longtime justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who were due to retire. in January 2019.

Pariente, Lewis and Quince helped form a generally liberal majority, and the Conservative Canadian-led tribunal has shown its willingness to revisit legal precedents for the death penalty.

Defendants generally have the right to represent themselves in court, but this right has not been extended to post-conviction proceedings in death penalty cases. The proposed change would involve the modification of a procedural rule for the judicial system.

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Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office, which handles a large number of death penalty litigation, did not submit a case to the Supreme Court to take a position on the proposed change.

The Florida Department of Corrections also took no position, but submitted comments in August that “the proposed changes would cause significant logistical and security issues for the FDC (the department) in court proceedings.”

“A proceeding to detain an inmate in post-conviction litigation may require additional resources, as well as additional access to law library materials beyond what is contemplated in (the Florida Administrative Code).” the department said on file. “Documents are typically provided to defense lawyers in electronic form, which would require increased access to technology for a pro inmate to review them. For example, (the Florida Administrative Code) governs inmate property and, for security reasons, does not contemplate allowing inmates to own disks, memory cards, or other electronic storage media. The storage of files and legal documents by detainees is limited in quantity and could prove to be insufficient for the needs of a litigant after conviction.

This article originally appeared in the Pensacola News Journal: Florida death row inmate proposal opposed by attorneys and attorneys

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