Yesterday, legislation passed in the Florida Senate to make radical changes to the state criminal justice system – and this will have a major impact upon how death penalty cases are handled here in the State of Florida if the Powers That Be can get this through the necessary hurdle of a constitutional amendment.

All this came about, apparently, as everyone up in Tallahassee is fighting over budget matters.  The Tampa Tribune points a finger at JD Alexander, the chairperson of the Florida Senate Budget Committee who inserted a surprise into a bill, amending the pending Senate bill by adding the same language – language approving major changes to our criminal courts – that he apparently cut and pasted from a House bill that passed earlier this month. 

What The New Legislation Does – Births a Brand New High Court for Criminal Cases

The Florida Legislature has approved splitting the Florida Supreme Court into two separate courts:  one civil, one criminal.  Since the Florida Supreme Court would be left with some empty seats, three to be exact, Governor Rick Scott would be able to appoint who would fill those positions on the highest civil court in the state. 

The new law also gives the Florida Legislature new power taken from the Florida Supreme Court as part of the Florida Supreme Court’s makeover.  Now, the Legislature will control the internal rule-making process of the court.  

This is law, a done deal — except for the hurdle of getting a Constitutional Amendment passed.

Backlog of Death Penalty Cases Said to Be Reason for Creating New Court

It’s been argued that the reason for this judicial revamp is that death penalty cases are backlogged right now in the current Florida Supreme Court.  Republicans in the Florida House pointed to the 393 people setting on Florida’s Death Row as one major reason that a new, separate high court dedicated to criminal matters was needed. 

Others are arguing that this has nothing whatsoever to do with Death Row; instead, they focus on the Florida Supreme Court and its ability to decide the boundaries of Florida’s voting districts.  These folk suggest that moving three justices over to this new criminal court will open the door to Governor Scott appointing people to fill those positions that will have the same viewpoint he does on things. 

Power play, they say.  Not concern over capital punishment. 

It’s Not Over Until the Voters Okay It Via a Constitutional Amendment

If anyone thinks that lines are being blurred between the legislative, judicial, and executive branches — well, you’re not alone.  

Most of the legal community in this state is discussing the huge impact of what has just happened here.  This is a very, very, very big deal. 

All that remains before these changes become effective in our state is for this to be placed on a ballot.  Making this big of an overall to the Florida judicial system means that the constitution has to be changed.  And, sixty percent (60%) of the voters will have to approve the new constitution as amended. 

Florida will vote on the Amendment on the November 2012 Ballot.