Florida’s Hair-trigger Convictions

You wouldn’t know it by our recent high-profile cases – the Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman trials, where not-guilty verdicts impelled collective facepalms among much of a dismayed public – but Florida abounds with wrongful convictions.

In fact, the sunshine state leads the country in exonerated death row inmates, releasing its twenty-fourth defendant since 1973 just this past year. That statistic alone is disconcerting for a state that passed the Timely Justice Act of 2013, a law accelerating executions by requiring the governor to sign a death warrant within 30 days of a Supreme Court review and mandating the execution to follow after 180 days. The law took effect earlier this month and is already facing public reproach and a lawsuit by a state agency representing death row inmates.

Almost as puzzling as the state’s frame of mind during jury selection in high profile cases is this law which speeds up the execution process in spite of its exoneration rate. But it’s not without its logic. Having 400 inmates on death row and spouting one of the lowest rates of actual executions, most people sentenced to death in Florida die of natural causes to the tune of millions of dollars for taxpayers. So depending on where one stands with capital punishment, this law either makes some functional sense or confirms the pervasive brokenness of the death penalty.

Still, you don’t have to go as far as the death penalty to witness wasted dollars on Florida’s compulsive and often crooked conviction habits. Wrongly accused Bill Dillon received a public apology from governor Rick Scott last year and will be getting $50,000 each year of the 27 years he was imprisoned. Dillon was accused of the stabbing death of a man who’s body was discovered in the Brevard County woods. More disturbing than the almost three decades this innocent man was imprisoned is the fact that he was convicted with the help of a fraudulent witness, a man named John Preston who aided Brevard authorities with cases they couldn’t close legally.

Preston was a dog handler who gave testimony about his German shepherd’s ability to sniff out traces of a crime. It is believed that he helped imprison dozens of innocent men up until he was exposed by a judge imposing a court supervised test of the dog’s abilities. The test revealed that essentially all of Preston’s claims – which included his dog picking up a suspect’s scent in the middle of a lake – were fraudulent.

So far, three more convictions have been overturned with a fourth under appeal. Attorney General Pam Bondi campaigned on the promise to look into all of Preston’s old cases, in search for more wrongful convictions but her interest has since waned.

The sad truth is that there isn’t a powerful special interest group leveraging lawmakers into caring about the wrongfully convicted. It’s left to underfunded grass roots organizations and time stretched volunteer activists.

At sealmyrecord.com, we pride ourselves in having helped dozens of our clients overturn convictions. For ten years now, we’ve been dedicated to unburdening our clients of the mistakes of their past, regardless of whether it was made by them or the criminal justice system. Have a question about overturning a conviction or any other criminal matter? Call us at 954-309-3640 or email us at evaluation@sealmyrecord.com and we’ll look at all possibilities.