Florida’s execution rate gives Amnesty International “major concerns”

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For death penalty opponents at Amnesty International, Florida joins Iran and North Korea as places of “major concern.”

In the annual release of a report on global execution rates, the Sunshine State’s fast lane on death row is deeply troubling, writes Nico Hines in the Daily Beast.

Of particular note is the Timely Justice Act. Signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, crafted to get convicted criminals through the justice system and into the execution chamber – once exhausting all appeals — as quickly as possible.

The Justice Act helped propel Florida past Texas for the lead in death row sentences handed down in 2013, as well as it being the only state to provide a death sentence with a 7-5 jury verdict.

Florida also holds another inauspicious record — for the most prisoners on death row that have turned out to be innocent.

“Florida’s Timely Justice Act is 100 percent bad news because it limits the possibility for challenging the death sentence,” Amnesty death penalty campaigner Chiara Sangiorgio told The Daily Beast. “We still have unsafe convictions. Quite worryingly we are seeing other states trying to follow suit and speed up executions.”

Although executions in the U.S. have been on the decline, America continues to be one of the top five global executioners — with Iran, Iraq, China and Saudi Arabia. For the globes 206 countries, only 22 continue the practice of executions last year, and the U.S. the only executioner in the Americas.

Amnesty is calling on President Obama to take up the public debate on executions, even though the responsibility lies primarily with the states.

“We would definitely encourage Obama to come out and call for an abolition of the death penalty in the United States,” Sangiorgio said. “We do think that would definitely help.”

While states can create different legal penalties, at the federal level, there has been no slowdown in capital punishment. Federal authorities have been aggressively seeking the death penalty even in states like New York that have abolished the death penalty, Sangiorgio added.

As the countries carrying out executions dropped since the 1990s, now down to about half, there was a spike last year in official killings, spurred by the huge number of people put to death in both Iraq and Iran. In Iraq, 169 people were executed, and at least 369 killed in Iran, an area where public hangings from cranes are typical.

In countries like North Korea, effectively sealed off from the rest of the globe, it is difficult to pin down exact numbers for executions. And in China, executions are considered state secrets, but Amnesty estimates it could be in the thousands.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.