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Comparing approaches of Legislature, court

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 15, 2000

The Florida Legislature passed a law in January to speed up death penalty appeals. The Florida Supreme Court declared that law unconstitutional Friday, but offered its own solutions to delays in carrying out death sentences. Here are some of the major differences:

LEGISLATURE: Placed an absolute limit on the number of appeals a death row inmate could file in state court. Once that cap has been reached, additional appeals were prohibited with one very narrow exception for cases where lawyers found new evidence of innocence.

SUPREME COURT: Rejects those limits. That means death row inmates can continue to file successive motions, such as those alleging new evidence of their innocence, claims that the prosecutor improperly withheld evidence, or allegations that a lawyer was ineffective, if the motions meet certain requirements.

LEGISLATURE: When inmates make a second round of appeals, they must be filed within six months of the filing of the first appeal. This is known as a 'dual track system" designed to move the appeals forward simultaneously.

SUPREME COURT: Proposed a different dual track system that would require that a post-conviction lawyer be appointed within 15 days of a death sentence. The post-conviction lawyer can begin working on the case while another lawyer handles the direct appeal. The second round of appeals does not have to be filed until 180 days after the Supreme Court rules on the first appeal.

SUPREME COURT: Creates a new right for death row defendants, mandating that judges must hold a hearing to hear evidence on every post-conviction motion. The justices' argument: that many judges improperly deny such hearings, causing years-long delays as the denial makes its way to the state Supreme Court.

LEGISLATURE: Did not create new rights for death row inmates to have hearings.

SUPREME COURT: Calls for a change to the public records law to allow post-conviction lawyers access to public records such as those compiled during a criminal investigation.

LEGISLATURE: Did not change this aspect of public records law.

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