Florida Innocence Commission’s Final Report

The Florida Innocence Commission, which has not been funded for next year, has released its final report. You can download the document here. It is a lengthy document, and I haven’t had enough time yet to spend with it, but here is a bit of summary from the “chairman’s remarks” section.

          After two years the work of the Florida Innocence Commission has come to an end.  As is evident by an examination of the reports produced by the Commission, a number of sound recommendations have been offered that if implemented, could lessen the likelihood of individuals enduring wrongful convictions in Florida.  However, we cannot ignore the fact that if these recommendations are not given serious consideration, thoroughly vetted and implemented in some form, then the problems suffered in the past of wrongful convictions and innocent people sentenced to prison will continue to occur.

Clearly, some of these recommendations will cost money and some may even argue the price of justice is too high.  But the consequence of inaction is injustice, and injustice is not what this Country was founded upon.  The foundation of this Country, and this State, is based upon the Rule of Law.  There can never be an unreasonable price attached to a founding principle of this Country.  Whenever one individual has been wrongly convicted we as a society suffer.  If wrongful convictions continue, at some point in time it will cause the citizens to wonder whether the system is fair and whether the judgments of our juries and courts should be respected.  It is that respect which strengthens the pillars of justice.

We cannot avoid the reality that a number of the problems in our system of justice deal with the issue of adequate funding.  Prosecutors, public defenders, and the courts are overburdened and do not have adequate tools and resources to keep pace with the volume and complexity of the cases before them.  Conflict attorneys are currently undercompensated which will eventually lead to serious problems in ensuring that people who appear before the court have competent and adequate representation.

If we are to uphold what I consider to be the goal of the justice system, that is to protect the innocent and punish the guilty according to the law, then we must be vigilant in ensuring that our system of justice is appropriately funded.

I can’t comment extensively on it, since as I said, I haven’t had enough time to wade through the full document yet, but it appears on first glance that the Commission has become increasingly concerned about the funding of Florida’s justice system. It comes up again and again throughout the report:

During the two years of its existence, the Commission identified five causes for wrongful convictions:  Eyewitness identification, false confessions, informants and jailhouse snitches, improper/invalid scientific evidence, and professional responsibility.  While studying the topic of professional responsibility, it became crystal clear to the Commission that a sixth significant cause exists that may lead to wrongful convictions:  The underfunding of the criminal justice system in Florida.  Because of the significance of this issue, subsection (h) has been included in the Executive Summary.

The following points raised by three Commission members are the most salient and reflect the mindset of the Commission.

Judge Silvernail stated that without adequate counsel, due process is not assured.   If we do not provide adequate funding there is a loss of the due process of law which will lead to wrongful convictions.

Dean Acosta commented that if one is serious about doing something about wrongful convictions we must recognize that a lack of funding is the most serious threat that implicates the state attorneys, public defenders, the Attorney General, criminal conflict counsel, and the judiciary.  All of the other recommendations of the Commission are secondary.  More funding is fundamental to our rights and the system of law.

Mr. Coxe succinctly stated that inadequate funding leads to mistakes that are a recipe for wrongful convictions.

I’ll be studying the rest of this report hopefully soon, and posting some more excerpts from it. In the meantime, check it out for yourself at the link above.

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