Monday, February 2, 2009

Death penalty pause discussed during budget talks

The current state of the economy has everyone looking for ways to cut costs in order to balance budgets, and the Florida Legislature was recently presented with a new idea to help the State court system.

Lawmakers handed down a $5 million, or 1.25 percent, budget cut to the State court system at the end of a 10-day special session, which left its budget at $433.2 million. During this special session, Senate Criminal Justice and Judiciary Committees were presented with a suggestion on how to save the court system some money by enacting a moratorium on the death penalty. Florida is one of 36 states that use the death penalty and it can be imposed for charges of first-degree murder, felony murder, capital drug trafficking and capital sexual battery.

The idea to furlough the death sentence came from 10th Judicial Circuit Assistant Public Defender Howard Dimmig, who is also its administrative division director responsible for overseeing the departments of fiscal-administrative, information technology and secretarial-clerical services. These duties have given him a clear picture of the time and resources required for a death penalty case and Fourth Judicial Circuit Public Defender Matt Shirk agreed with the idea.

“We definitely could benefit financially if there would be a moratorium on the death penalty,” said Shirk. “There is just so much more involved in a death penalty case from the staffing to the documentation that is required.”

In most circumstances, two attorneys will be assigned to a death penalty case by the Public Defender’s Office and they will focus on the case. In regards to documentation, Shirk pointed out one of the more recent death penalty cases as an example, that of serial killer Paul Durousseau. The cost of the defense of the convicted murderer was nearly $210,000 and the files of the case are so voluminous they fill a room at the Public Defender’s Office. The date of Durousseau’s offense was July 26, 1999 and the date of his sentencing was Dec. 13, 2007. The average number of years between offense and execution is about 14 years, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

There are currently 392 prisoners on death row and 46 are from Duval County. There are 241 white males and 137 black males currently on death row. Both the youngest death row inmate, 21 year-old Alan Wade, and one of the youngest inmates executed, 16 year-old Willie Clay, were prosecuted in Duval County.

Another cost involved with a death penalty case is housing. Prisoners are taken out of the general prison population once they are sentenced to death. They are sent to either Florida State Prison in Starke or Union Correctional Institution in Raiford. Women are housed in the Lowell Correctional Institution Annex, Lowell. Judias “Judy” Buenoano became the first woman to die in Florida’s electric chair March 30, 1998.

This wouldn’t be the first time Florida halted executions. Former Gov. Jeb Bush instituted a moratorium on executions shortly after problems occurred during a lethal injection procedure in 2006. The moratorium was in effect while the State reviewed its lethal injection protocols.

Though the courts are experiencing some tough economic decisions, State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit Angela Corey is sure a moratorium is an idea she couldn‘t support.

“All murder cases are labor intensive, death penalty or not,” said Corey. “I’m not in favor of a moratorium under any circumstance.”

(Source :Financial News & Daily Record)

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