By Catherine Awasthi – WUFT-FM
A panel of legal experts is scheduled to meet in Tallahassee tonight to discuss wrongful convictions and Florida’s death penalty. The Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University is the host a forum bringing about the conversation on capital punishment from whether it’s good public policy to its fiscal implications and integrity. University of Florida Legal Skills Professor Bob Dekle says the legal system is in need of reform but not necessarily the reform people are aiming for.
Executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penality, Mark Elliot says funding the death penalty system costs more money than it’s worth. He says 23 people have been exonerated, meaning the state has dropped charges after they spent an average of eight years on death row. Elliot says there are more beneficial uses for the money the state spends on capital punishment.
Dekle says the definition of exoneration is too flexible. He says sometimes people refer to exoneration as changing the penalty from execution to life in prison, which still implicates guilt. The Death Penalty Information Center defines exoneration as defendants either had their conviction overturned and they were acquitted at retrial and all charges were dropped or they were given an absolute pardon by the governor based on new evidence of innocence. Dekle goes on to say this definition has been ignored.
Elliot says the death penalty continues in Florida as a “bad Habit” and there are cheaper and more effective alternatives.
Wrongful convictions is the number one appeal residents seek for repealing the death penalty, but Dekle feels public opinion goes further.
Elliiot says there is no proof a death sentence is more of a deterrance than life in prison without parole.
But Both Elliot and Dekle question the effectiveness of public reform forums. Dekle says no matter how strong the public disapproval, so resident’s and anti-death penalty orgainzations will always be fighting.
Elliot feels differently. He says because of the nationwide public disapproval, Florida is not far behnid from doing away with the death penalty and leans more towards acceptance of life in prison without parole.
He goes on to say it’s about time capital punishment is coming into question. He adds doing away with the death penalty is a nationwide trend the state will soon catch on to especially as funding for crime prevention programs, victim services and education are experiencing substantial cuts.
Tonight’s forum is a chance to define a fair, accurate and reasonable approach or solution to Florida’s Capital Punishment process. Tomorrow WUFT-FM will report from Florida State Prison where Oba Chandler is scheduled for execution.