Monday, November 12, 2007

Florida lags in ensuring fair executions

Mark Schlakman

After reading various articles and related wire service accounts of Gov. Charlie Crist's first death warrant, I was struck by the fact that the American Bar Association's recent and relatively comprehensive report on Florida's death penalty process was not mentioned, notwithstanding that direct reference was made to the Commission on Administration of Lethal Injection report and recommendations.

Given that Florida has the dubious distinction of being the state with more death penalty exonerations than any other, the ABA report's main objective is to identify issues and problems that undermine the fairness and accuracy of Florida's death penalty process.

The ABA report neither supports nor opposes capital punishment.

Simply put, such issues and problems must be addressed by the state to ensure that innocent people are not executed.

Each of Florida's three branches of government has significant roles to play. Unfortunately, it appears as though relatively little action has been taken by state officials to address these concerns since the ABA report was released last fall.

Recognizing that questions of innocence may not be at issue in the Mark Dean Schwab case, and readily acknowledging that the ABA report does not address method of execution protocols, it nevertheless is important to make reference to the ABA report in such instances in order to avoid the false impression that once concerns relating to lethal injection protocols are addressed, the issues and problems that are identified in the ABA report somehow may be irrelevant. (According to the Florida Department of Corrections, Schwab is scheduled for execution Thursday for the 1992 kidnapping, rape and murder of 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez.)

Beyond method of execution protocols and, in particular, the Schwab case, it is in the best interests of every Floridian for the state to take long-overdue steps to ensure that the death penalty process is administered fairly.

The ABA report can be accessed through the following link:

Mark Schlakman is program director for the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at FLorida State University. He is a member of the ABA/Florida Death Penalty Assessment Team and board chair for Innocence Project of Florida.

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