- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A lawyer for death row inmates told Florida Supreme Court justices a law meant to quicken the process of carrying out death sentences unfairly limits the opportunity for condemned prisoners to introduce new evidence.

The state says the act only mandates that the process is carried out in a reasonable amount of time.

“There’s many individuals who aren’t on death row who have been sentenced to life that DNA results have exonerated 35 years afterward,” attorney Martin McClain told the Associated Press afterward. “I certainly understand the notion that we want to be moving these cases along, but we still need to make sure that the convictions are reliable and the sentences of death are reliable.”

The Timely Justice Act of 2013 created stricter timeframes for appeals and post-conviction motions. It also enacts reporting requirements on case progress. The high court spent nearly an hour Tuesday hearing arguments about the contentious law passed by the Florida Legislature.

“The argument is about whether or not the Timely Justice Act interferes with the judicial process that ensures reliability,” McClain said.

The Supreme Court did not indicate when it would issue a ruling in the case.

“Historically with the death penalty in Florida there’s been many individuals who have been exonerated, like Juan Melendez 18 years after he was convicted and sentenced to death and it took three rounds of post-conviction litigation for that to happen,” McClain said. “The Timely Justice Act tries to cut off the ability to file successive motions and really compact them. That just sort of creates this problem.”

Twenty-four men have been exonerated from Florida’s death row since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Gov. Rick 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 that the changes called for in the law would increase some of the legal protections for inmates.

One area of contention has been a requirement for the Supreme Court to provide the governor a list of inmates that are ready for warrants.

“I don’t know that it really has affected when warrants are signed, and that’s key,” assistant attorney general Carol Dittmar argued. “You talk about it in petition … that there’s going to be 100 petitions signed and there’s going to be a complete end to successive litigation and it’s going to be completely prohibited and we’re going to have botched executions because there’s not going to be any way to litigate procedurally the method of execution after a warrant’s been signed… .This petition was filed seven months ago and we haven’t seen any of those things come to pass.”

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