April 6, 2007
Clemency vote is just a start
Thursday's 3-1 vote by Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet, restoring much
more quickly the civil rights of most felons who have completed their
sentences, was important procedurally and symbolically to the cause of
justice in our state.
But it's far too soon to declare Florida a model where justice rolls down
like waters, as the Hebrew prophet Amos declared thousands of years ago.
Considerable work remains to be done, and lawmakers so far this session have
shown little interest in doing the hard work necessary for that mighty
stream to flow.
Under the current process, lawmakers must approve claims bills filed on
behalf of individuals who were wrongfully convicted and incarcerated. That's
how Cocoa Beach resident Wilton Dedge was awarded $2 million in 2005 after
spending 22 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit.
This year, claims bills for former inmate Alan Crotzer - who, like Mr.
Dedge, was freed on the basis of DNA evidence that exonerated him - are
barely crawling through the legislative process.
Moreover, with more than half the session past, so-called "global" bills,
designed to standardize the compensation process for the wrongfully
convicted, have made little headway - although one, SB 2464, is on the
Senate Judiciary Committee agenda for Tuesday.
Beyond that, calls for a statewide innocence commission, similar to ones in
Connecticut and North Carolina, have largely been met with a yawn.
(A measure to create an innocence project in this state - SB 2564 by Sen.
Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville - has yet to be heard. Jenny Greenberg, executive
director of the Innocence Project of Florida, called that bill
"well-intentioned but problematic,
appointment authority in the hands of one person: the governor.)
Florida, which leads the nation in the number of Death Row inmates freed
since 1973, ought not take the issue of justice so lightly.
As DNA testing throughout the country has shown, wrongful convictions are
not as rare as many would like to think. And DNA evidence is available in
just a small percentage of cases.
Sandy D'Alemberte, the former Florida State University president and onetime
president of the American Bar Association, strongly advocates establishing a
commission in Florida modeled after North Carolina's innocence panel.
"We should investigate wrongful convictions for the same reasons that we
investigate transportation accidents: We don't want to see them happen
again," Mr. D'Alemberte wrote in a commentary for the Tallahassee Democrat
"When we look at failures to arrive at the truth, we have the opportunity to
examine all the steps along the way and to enact legal reforms, establish
educational programs or institute disciplinary action as may be indicated."
If such a commission were established in Florida, it could also review
proposals for more comprehensive clemency reforms. Some civil-rights
advocates were disappointed by Thursday's vote by the Cabinet, saying the
new rules were too ambiguous.
The broad issue is one of simple justice - which applies not only to victims
of crimes but also those wrongfully, unjustly punished by the
That stream of justice has yet to roll in the Sunshine State.
Source : Tallahassee Democrat