We have had some new news on the Florida Actual Innocence Commission front. We had previously discussed this idea on Plain Error a few months back here and here. The Innocence Commission got some mixed news last week.
On March 22, 2009, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Peggy Quince sent Senator Mike Haridopolos, the next Senate President, a letter stating:
The court is very much interested in looking at the cases of actual innocence and is considering the establishment of a commission or task force to study this issue and to make recommendations. We are most appreciative of your interest in and support of this effort, and hope that we can additionally count on the support of the Legislature during this session.
Justice Quince noted that the budget for the Gender Bias Study Commission over a three year period was $321,589, peaking at about $146,000 in fiscal year 1988. The Racial and Ethnic Bias Study Commission had a $378,350 budget over five years, with the highest yearly appropriation at $278,350 in fiscal year 1991. Of course, Justiece Quince noted, that these figures needed to be adjusted for the passage of time. This was a very positive letter.
In response to Sandy D’Alemberte’s petition to the Florida Supreme Court to create the Commission by rule, Chief Justice Quince sent Mr. D’Alemberte a separate letter stating that they were denying our petition to create the commission, BUT:
The Court, however, is very much interested in looking at the cases of actual innocence, and is considering the establishment of a commission or task force by Administrative Order,” she wrote. “As we explore the best avenue to make inquiries on this subject, we welcome any input you or your colleagues may have concerning funding sources, etc.
So it seems that either the court was blowing smoke or they are completely serious about implementing the Innocence Commission if they can just find the money in these tough economic times.
Well, as of this morning, we are likely going to find out the Court’s real intentions. Florida Today is reporting that Senator Mike Haridopolos is seeking to include $200,000 in THIS YEAR’s budget for the establishment of the Innocence Commission. That funding, as well as his pledge of staff support, should be enough to get this thing off the ground:
“This is really a two-way street,” Haridopolos said. “It will protect accused people who are innocent of crimes, but also give people the confidence to know that the people in prison are guilty.”
Politics is a funny business. I think it would be fair to say that Senator Haridopolos and I would agree on little in terms of the big public policy issues of the day. But he has been one of the strongest leaders on innocence issues in his time in the Senate, beginning with his sponsoring of the Dedge compensation bill, continuing with the sponsorship of the Dillon claims bill, and now his pursuit of an Innocence Commission.
Let’s give credit where it is due. If you get a chance, drop the good Senator a line and thank him for his leadership and commitment to this issue:
District Office: (321) 752-3131
Tallahassee Office: (850) 487-5056