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Justices Revamp Rules For Death Penalty Appeals

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – The Florida Supreme Court approved a series of changes Thursday aimed at improving the death-penalty appeals process.

The changes include revising requirements for attorneys handling cases.

Justices last year formed a subcommittee to look at the appeals system, a move that came as the Legislature targeted delays in carrying out the death penalty by passing a bill dubbed the "Timely Justice Act."

The Supreme Court largely approved a series of rule changes that were proposed by the subcommittee and that deal with what are known as "post-conviction" appeals in death-penalty cases. The subcommittee took input from groups such as judges, prosecutors, public defenders and the governor's office.

"The subcommittee indicates that the overwhelming consensus from these groups is that the existing rules governing the capital post-conviction process generally work well, and that a complete overhaul of those rules is not necessary,'' the court said in an opinion releasing the changes.

As an example of the revisions, justices approved additional requirements for lead attorneys in post-conviction appeals. Those attorneys, in part, will be required to have at least three years of experience in post-conviction litigation and also meet criteria for experience in handling capital cases.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and James E.C. Perry agreed on the rule decisions.

Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston dissented on two issues, including a rule change that will prevent defendants from representing themselves in post-conviction proceedings.

"The News Service of Florida contributed to this report."

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