Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Lawmaker defends death penalty


An American Bar Association panel found that Florida's death penalty system ''falls short'' in providing defendants with ''fair and accurate'' treatment, but a key state senator Monday dismissed calls for revisions.

Florida was one of several states cited by the lawyers' group, which is calling for a nationwide moratorium on executions until states determine that their systems meet legal standards for fairness.

But Sen. Victor Crist, a Tampa Republican, said Florida has done what it can to eliminate problems.

''The criticisms are unwarranted and nothing more than an attempt to end the death penalty,'' said Crist, who chairs the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee and has made death penalty revisions his chief policy area. ``No matter what we do, as long as we have a death penalty, they'll try to find fault with it.''

Florida was one of eight states the association studied over the past three years. The review team that studied the system in Florida, as well as those in Arizona and Pennsylvania, did not call for moratoriums in those states. Chris Slobogin, a University of Florida School of Law professor and review team member said, however, that a ''significant majority'' of the group voted for a moratorium.

The study notes that Florida leads the nation in Death Row exonerations -- 22 since 1973 -- and that even the state's Supreme Court justices have complained about the quality of legal representation provided by some private Death Row attorneys.

The report also found that there is ''inadequate compensation'' for attorneys in the state-run offices that handle death penalty appeals.

But Crist said Florida is one of the few states that provide such attorneys.

''Every recommendation they've had, we've followed suit,'' Crist said. ``It's just never enough. They're never satisfied and we never reach a resolution.''

Stephen Hanlon, who chairs the death penalty project, said the bar association takes no position for or against the death penalty.

But he added that the bar association ``has no confidence that fairness or accuracy is being provided.''

''The death penalty system does not deliver the justice that the American people deserve, expect and are guaranteed,'' he said.

The report notes that one reviewer, Jacksonville State Attorney Harry Shorstein, said he supported the death penalty and hoped the report would ``facilitate efforts to effect positive changes in the policies and administration of the death penalty.''

The report recommends that Florida set up an independent commission to study the number of wrongful convictions in the state and recommend changes to prevent them.

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