As you can see from our Press Release below, IPF’s efforts to create an Actual Innocence Commission in Florida have just been buoyed by one of, if not the most conservative members of the Florida Senate, Mike Haridopolos (R-Brevard). It is not insiginificant that he also happens to be the next President of the Florida Senate. He sent a letter this week to Chief Justice fo the Florida Supreme Court, Peggy Quince, supporting and offering legislative assistance in the creation of the Innocence Commission, the creation of which is being considered currently being considered by the court.
The Commission would not determine claims of innocence, which is the primary function of IPF, prosecutors and courts in innocence-based litigation. However, it would look at those cases where innocence has been determined and find out why those wrongful convictions occurred so it can make recommendations for policy reforms that will prevent wrongful convictions going forward.
Senator Haridopolos has cut his teeth on wrongful conviction issues by being the Senate sponsor on claims bills to compensate Florida DNA exoneress Wilton Dedge and, now, Bill Dillon. John Torres from Florida Today reports:
“Our goal should be justice,” Haridopolos said. “I’m known as being tough on crime, but let’s make sure the right guy is behind bars.” He said the letter is a result of his research on a special bill for William Dillon, a Satellite Beach man who spent 27 years in prison before DNA ultimately excluded him from key evidence.Haridopolos said the commission would save the state money by weeding out frivolous lawsuits and keeping guilty inmates from “abusing the system.” It also would eliminate the need for special compensation bills in the future because it would help limit wrongful incarcerations.
Haridopolos said the commission idea had been “floating around” for a couple of years. He said Florida could use a similar project in North Carolina as a model. “Their hard work has provided an example of how other states should react when faced with a plethora of wrongful incarcerations,” he wrote.
Reached in Tallahassee Thursday, Haridopolos said the time is ripe for this to happen. “The criminal justice system is not perfect,” he said. “We need to have something established like this. It will make sure that when a person is sentenced to a life sentence, or even to the death penalty, that they are truly the guilty one.”
This is just more proof that the “Innocence” issue must not be an issue where lines are drawn by party affiliation or political persuasion. With the support of the legislature and the recent unanimous support of the Florida Bar Board of Governors, the chances of creating this Innocence Commission have dramatically improved.