Special Session for Lethal Injection

By Pendleton, Randolph; Pfankuch, Thomas B. | The Florida Times Union, December 10, 1999 | Go to article overview

Special Session for Lethal Injection


Pendleton, Randolph, Pfankuch, Thomas B., The Florida Times Union


TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Legislature will convene for a three-day special session in early January to consider lethal injection as an execution method and to seek ways to speed up the appeals process in death cases.

The special session will be from noon Jan. 5 to midnight Jan. 7, Gov. Jeb Bush and legislative leaders announced yesterday.

Bush, top lawmakers and their staffs have been meeting for three weeks in hopes of finding a solution to potential constitutionality problems with the electric chair, and to quicken the appeals process that has averaged 14 years for Death Row inmates over the past six years.

"This is something that is morally right," Bush said, noting that the state's goal is to resolve all capital cases in five years.

Lawmakers want to head off the U.S. Supreme Court's consideration of the constitutionality of the electric chair by approving lethal injection as an option for new and existing death cases. Officials fear the death sentences of 369 Death Row prisoners could be commuted to life sentences if the court bans electrocution before the state can pass legislation offering a choice between the chair and injection.

Bush was joined yesterday by Senate President Toni Jennings of Orlando and House Speaker John Thrasher of Orange Park, a noted supporter of the electric chair who toured the death chamber this summer.

But Thrasher said the Florida and U.S. supreme courts have sent the Legislature strong signals that it may be necessary to move to lethal injection as an option as a way to avoid further high court intervention.

"We're responding to the victims and their grieving families who deserve nothing less than to be sure that justice will be done," he said.

In addition to allowing lethal injection as an option, the proposed bill would piggyback the appeals filed by Death Row inmates. Right now, an initial direct appeal is typically followed by several layers of secondary appeals which lengthen the time an inmate can avoid execution.

Bush said Florida should follow the lead of other states like Texas and Virginia that require Death Row inmates to file direct and other post-conviction appeals simultaneously. At present, the post-conviction appeal does not have to be filed until a year after the Supreme Court decides the first appeal and even that deadline often is not enforced.

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