Florida tries to speed up executions as Maryland, other states repeal death penalty

FILE: June 8, 2012: A death row inmate is led down a corridor at San Quentin state prison in San Quentin, California .

FILE: June 8, 2012: A death row inmate is led down a corridor at San Quentin state prison in San Quentin, California .  (REUTERS)

While other states move to abolish capital punishment, Florida lawmakers are taking an entirely different approach -- trying to speed up executions for death row inmates. 

The Republican-controlled legislature has sent a bill to Gov. Rick Scott that, if signed, would require the governor to sign execution warrants 30 days after the state Supreme Court reviews cases. It would require the state to execute a prisoner within 180 days of a warrant being signed.

The legislation also sets new deadlines for death row appeals.

The bill arrives on Scott’s desk just days after Maryland became the sixth state in as many years -- and the 18th state overall -- to abolish the death penalty. Democratic Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the bill Thursday, ending what supporters said was decades of racial and socio-economic disparity in death penalty sentencing. 

Supporters of the Florida legislation claimed their bill was aimed at improving -- rather than abolishing -- a broken system. They argue it puts an end to condemned prisoners sitting for years on death row -- often through what they consider unnecessary delays in the so-called “post conviction” process. 

Republican state Sen. Joe Negron, the bill's sponsor, on Monday called that situation a “mockery” of the criminal justice system.

“We believe in due process,” Negron told FoxNews.com. “But this is about cases in which there is no allegation of innocence and a succession of motion after motion.” 

He and fellow state Sen. Rob Bradley also argue the bill ends the long waits that surviving families and others must endure between a murder and the justice they seek.

“This bill is about closure,” Bradley told The Florida Courier.

The average stay on Florida’s death row before being executed is roughly 13 years, according to state records.

Critics of the legislation, however, question why legislators would want to, in effect, accelerate the appeals process, considering 24 people on death row have been exonerated since Florida resumed executions in the 1970s, which is more exonerations than in any other state.

“It is both tragic and ironic that the state that sends the highest number of wrongfully convicted people to death row is considering speeding up executions,” said Mark Elliott, of the group Innocent on Death Row. “Speeding up executions virtually guarantees that innocent people will be executed.” 

The legislation attempts to fix the problem of the accused getting shoddy legal services by suspending lawyers for five years from handling death appeals if they are found twice to have provided deficient representation. 

In Maryland, those who advocated for the abolition of the death penalty argued the drawn-out execution process was more expensive for the state. They cited a 2008 Urban Institute study that found it costs $1.1 million to prosecute a death penalty-eligible case in which execution is not sought, compared with $3 million to prosecute a case that resulted in the death penalty.  

Some Republicans in the Democrat-controlled legislature argued that ending the death penalty entirely was tantamount to putting out a welcome sign for killers.

“I made the argument: What if a terrorist came to Maryland and killed a million residents with a dirty bomb or something like that? Will you keep the death penalty just for that?” Republican Delegate Michael Smigiel told FoxNews.com on Monday. “They wouldn’t do it.”