Fla. attorneys challenge changes to death penalty
TALLAHASSEE - A new Florida law that speeds up how quickly the state carries out the death penalty is being challenged in the state Supreme Court. Attorneys Neal Dupree and Bill Jennings - who head the state agencies that represent death row inmates after they're convicted - are leading a lawsuit filed Wednesday afternoon against Attorney General Pam Bondi and the state of Florida. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include more than 100 current death row inmates. Signed by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this month, the "Timely Justice Act of 2013" creates tighter timeframes for appeals, post-conviction motions and imposes reporting requirements on case progress. It also re-establishes a separate agency for north Florida to provide appellate-level legal representation to inmates sentenced to death, and requires them to "pursue all possible remedies in state court." Scott said in his signing statement that the state's current death row inmates who have exhausted their judicial appeals have been awaiting execution for an average of 22 years.The lawsuit claims the new law unconstitutionally usurps the court's powers and violates convicts' constitutional rights to due process and equal protection. The challenge also asks for an injunction to keep the law from going into effect on Monday. Florida currently has more than 400 inmates on its death row, more than any other state except California. Two former death row inmates who were exonerated have said they fear the changes could lead to the execution of people who are innocent. Seth Penalver was exonerated after 18 years in prison, while Herman Lindsey was freed after three years in prison. Twenty-four men have been exonerated from Florida's death row since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Telephone messages left by the Associated Press at Scott's office and Bondi's office Wednesday evening weren't immediately returned. Scott has previously disputed the idea that the new law would increase the risk of the execution of those who were innocent. He has also contended the changes called for in the new law would increase some of the legal protections for inmates.