TALLAHASSEE - Both defense attorneys and state lawyers told the Florida Supreme Court on Friday that the deadline for inmates to file requests for DNA testing should be extended.
Defense attorneys and the Florida Bar committee members who asked for the extension to October 2004 made their case Friday. They were followed by a lawyer for Attorney General Charlie Crist, who told the justices her boss also supports the extension.
The original deadline for inmates to apply for testing was Oct. 1. The deadline is included in a state law and a judicial rule approved by the Florida Supreme Court. Both took effect two years ago, after DNA proved the innocence of two convicted murderers, one of whom was cleared after he died of cancer on death row.
On Sept. 30, the court suspended the deadline indefinitely at the request of defense attorneys who pointed to a backlog of several hundred cases.
No one on the backlog list has a death sentence. Death row inmates have attorneys working on their cases from the time they're sentenced, so all those who wanted the tests met the deadline.
But because most state prisoners don't have attorneys, records and documents must be collected and reviewed in their cases, a time-consuming task. A handful of attorneys and a few dozen law students from two Florida universities are handling a backlog of about 600 requests.
"Is this one-year extension really going to be enough?" Justice Peggy Quince asked Friday.
"Perhaps not," answered Circuit Judge Olin Wilson Shinholser of Bartow, chairman of the Florida Bar Criminal Procedure Rules Committee. But he said a yearlong extension was what his committee recommended.
Circuit Judge Thomas Bateman of Tallahassee, speaking for the Criminal Court Steering Committee, told the high court that his committee did not think a year would be enough to process the backlog of requests.
Speaking for the Florida Public Defenders Association, John Eddy Morrison said the Supreme Court should adopt the extension "as a bare-minimum stopgap measure."