Justice Should Be the Priority
The Florida Innocence Commission was established in 2009 by the State Supreme Court “to conduct a comprehensive study of the causes of wrongful convictions and of measures to prevent such convictions.” Seem like a reasonable objective to me. The Commission cost $200,000, a more than reasonable price for checking a potential source of government abuse. But Florida’s Governor Rick Scott disagrees, and has defunded the commission.
Providing for criminal justice is an legitimate and vital function of government, and states spend a lot of money doing just that. Many conservatives believe that it is enough to be “tough on crime,” and the stance seems to appeal to most voters. But conservatives should do better than just taking a simplistic, populist approach if it means creating new problems, and if better approaches exist. It’s good to be tough on crime as a general matter, but that can’t involve just taking a blindly aggressive approach to all things criminal justice, otherwise you end up with a system full of abuses and which is tough on both criminals and non-criminals alike.
Since 1973, there have been 23 Florida death row inmates released after evidence emerged to call their guilt into question. It costs a lot of money to process, house and exhaust the legal appeals of a death row inmate, never minding the impact on their civil liberties, and someone truly interested in leading a small, fiscally responsible government should welcome the opportunity to make a tiny investment if it means identifying sources of injustice in the justice system, so that future wrongful convictions can be avoided.
Police, prosecutors and judges are agents of the state. They posses tremendous power over the lives of citizens, and like any state power there is significant potential for abuse. Spending $200,000 to look at whether that power is being applied accurately shouldn’t be too much to ask, and is as smart an investment fiscally as it is the moral and right thing to do.