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A DNA deadline in Florida

September 19, 2003 | Page 2

PRISONERS IN Florida are in a race against time as an October 1 deadline for DNA testing approaches. In 2001, state legislators passed a law giving inmates two years after their sentencing to request that a judge review DNA evidence which might prove their innocence. Anyone convicted before the law went into effect could also apply for testing--but they, too, had to meet the arbitrary October 1 deadline.

Now, hundred of inmates are scrambling to get their requests completed before October 1. If they don't, the law shamefully allows evidence in pre-2001 convictions to be destroyed if no request for testing has been filed by the deadline.

The law came two years ago in response to a high-profile case that exposed the failures of the Florida death penalty system. DNA testing proved the innocence of Frank Lee Smith--convicted of a 1985 murder and rape of an 8-year-old.

But the truth came out too late--a year after Smith died on death row from cancer.

Smith isn't alone--in January, Rudolph Holton, who served 16 years on death row, became the 25th person to be exonerated in Florida.

As October 1 approaches, the Florida Supreme Court is considering an appeal to extend the deadline. Earlier this month, the Florida Bar Association's rules committee voted 23-10 to file an emergency petition with the Florida Supreme Court requesting an extension of the rule to October 1, 2004. And prosecutors in Broward County--where Frank Lee Smith was wrongfully convicted--have announced that they will continue to conduct DNA testing beyond October 1.

Broward State's Attorney Mike Satz became the first state prosecutor who said he would not prevent inmates from getting the tests if they miss the deadline. When even prosecutors are embarrassed at how the state's death penalty laws have failed the innocent, then it's time to look at abolishing capital punishment in Florida altogether.

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