The Florida Actual Innocence Commission survived attempts to strip its $200,000 appropriation out of the budget at the end of the legislative session. Now it is all up to Governor Crist, as the budget sits on his desk and he can choose to veto individual appropriations in the bill. On Sunday, the St. Pete Times wrote:
[The Innocence Commission] will be money well spent.
As envisioned, an innocence commission would audit Florida’s cases of wrongful conviction the way the National Transportation Safety Board examines plane crashes. Each detail of what went wrong would be studied to determine whether new procedures should be adopted to prevent similar errors in the future.
Florida needs this. People like Alan Crotzer and Wilton Dedge spent years behind bars before DNA evidence confirmed they actually were innocent of the crimes they were convicted of committing. But there are plenty of cases where there is no DNA to resolve guilt or innocence with such certainty. Preventing wrongful convictions in the first place is often the only way to avoid miscarriages of justice for those crimes with no possibility of DNA exoneration.
The ongoing case of Leo Schofield, in prison 21 years for the murder of his wife, illustrates how hard it is to uncover potential wrongful convictions without DNA. Schofield has always maintained his innocence, even rejecting a plea deal that would have had him out of prison about a decade ago. Still, Schofield was convicted without physical evidence linking him to the murder. Only recently, after fingerprints found in his wife’s abandoned car were matched to that of a convicted murderer, is Schofield being considered for a new trial.
If you would like to contact the Governor and politely ask him to support this import effort by siging budget WITH the Innocence Commission appropriation in the bill, you can contact him at 850-488-7146 or Charlie.Crist@MyFlorida.com.