TALLAHASSEE, Florida — The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a law that aims to speed up when the state carries out death sentences.
The high court, more than a decade after it struck down a series of changes sought by former Gov. Jeb Bush to quicken the pace of executions, ruled unanimously that the "Timely Justice Act" is constitutional.
Florida legislators passed the law in 2013 in response to criticism that some convicted murderers remain on death row for decades. The law created stricter timeframes for appeals and post-conviction motions. It also enacts reporting requirements on case progress.
But in the ruling, which included two separate opinions backing the law, justices rejected arguments that the measure unfairly limited the ability of condemned inmates to introduce new evidence.
The court instead said nothing in the law prevented a court from blocking an execution at the last minute and stated that the governor's office still had the leeway to thoroughly review a case before deciding whether to sign a death warrant.
Martin McLain, one of the lawyers who asked the court to strike down the law, said despite the ruling he was pleased with the way the court ruled. He said the lawsuit was filed last year in the wake of "rhetoric" from the Legislature that the new measure would result in a wave of executions.
"Even though they say we don't prevail, it really is setting the foundation for really not changing anything," McClain said.
Before the law was even passed Gov. Rick Scott began speeding up the pace of executions. There have been 17 executions since Scott took office in 2011. John R. Henry, who was convicted of killing his estranged wife and her 5-year-old son, is scheduled to die June 18 at Florida State Prison in Starke.
McClain said that while Scott has been signing about one death warrant a month since the new law took effect it does not appear to be connected directly to the new law.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach and one of the prime sponsor, argued that the law's requirements to report which death row inmates have exhausted their appeals creates public pressure for the governor to act.
"While the Timely Justice Act does not improperly direct the governor to take action, I believe that it does force the governor's hand politically to sign warrants," Gaetz said.
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