Update: The source for this article was wrong. There was no veto of the funding.
If you didn’t think Gov. Rick Scott of Florida could be any more repulsive, you were wrong. He’s now eliminated the Florida Innocence Commission, which reviews claims of innocence in state courts and advocates for reforms that will reduce the number of wrongful commissions.
Florida holds the dubious honor of wrongfully convicting the largest number of innocent people put on death row. Since 1973, the Sunshine State wrongfully incarcerated and released twenty-three people set for a state sanctioned killing. And nationwide, 140 people in twenty-six states have been exonerated of the crimes for which they were convicted and sent to death row. If this tells independent voters anything, it’s that the criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform, with capital punishment leading the way.
It would seem that miscarriages of justice of such a magnitude would lead Florida policy makers and political leaders to take measures to ensure that number declines. Despite this grisly scenario, Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott recently eliminated the funding necessary to keep the Florida Innocence Commission alive. Created by the Florida Supreme Court, the commission is tasked with advocating for reforms after examining wrongful convictions by “studying false eyewitness identifications, interrogation techniques, false confessions, the use of informants, the handling of forensic evidence, attorney competence and conduct, the processing of cases and the administration of the death penalty.”
But with one stroke of the pen, Scott nixed the Commission by vetoing the funds the legislature appropriated for it – which last year stood at $200,000, a drop in the bucket for a state with a2013 budget of about $70 billion. This isn’t the first time Scott meddled with attempts at reforming Florida’s criminal justice system. Earlier this year he vetoed a nearly unanimous piece of legislation (combined House and Senate vote 152-4 in favor) that would move non-violent drug offenders out of prison and into treatment programs after completing half of their sentence.
I’d say this is unbelievable, but it’s entirely believable. And Balko points out that this isn’t just wrong on grounds of justice and fairness, it’s also fiscally irresponsible. The veto of funding for the innocence commission saves about $200,000 a year, but wrongful convictions cost the state an average of $2 million per case.