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The After The Trial blog presents insights on ongoing and recent trials around the state of Alabama, including weekly criminal law round-ups.

Massive Death Penalty Reform in AL

J.D. Lloyd - Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The first bill signed into law by recently-elevated Gov. Kay Ivey repeals Alabama's "judicial override" provision in our death penalty sentencing laws. "Judicial override" refers to situations where a jury recommends that someone convicted of capital murder be punished with life without parole, but the judge "overrides" that recommendation to sentence the defendant to death.

In Alabama, capital murder trials go through two stages: the guilt stage and the penalty stage. In the guilt stage, a jury must decide whether a defendant committed the capital offense he's been charged with. If they convict, the case moves to the penalty phase. In the penalty phase, the State presents a case for the the death penalty and the defense makes a case for life without parole (LWOP). Death or LWOP are the only two sentences possible. The jury hears the evidence and makes a recommendation to the judge as to what the sentence should be. Under Alabama law, the jury has to vote 10-2 in favor of death to make a death recommendation to the court; anything lower is considered a recommendation for LWOP. The judge then has the final sentencing authority. A judge could "override" a jury's LWOP recommendation and sentence a defendant to life.

 

This practice has received extreme criticism through the years. Alabama is the last state to do away with judicial override.
 
Read more about it here.

 

If you or someone you know has been convicted of wrongful criminal charges, there is hope after the trial. Contact us today by clicking HERE.


Is Alabama’s Death Penalty Scheme on Life Support?

J.D. Lloyd - Thursday, January 14, 2016

Today, by an 8-1 vote (Justice Alito dissenting), the US Supreme Court struck down Florida's death penalty sentencing scheme in Hurst v Florida . This is huge news in Alabama as our death penalty sentencing scheme is very similar.
 
Under Florida law, a capital offense only exposes a defendant to a punishment of life imprisonment without possibility of parole (“LWOP”). A defendant can be sentenced to death only after the court makes additional findings. Essentially, after the guilt phase, a court conducts a sentencing hearing where a jury will make a sentencing recommendation of LWOP or death. This recommendation is purely advisory. Then, the sentencing judge makes a determination of whether to impose LWOP or death.
 
The Court found this scheme violates Ring v. Arizona, which held that all facts necessary to impose death must be found by the jury. Only judicial -- and not jury -- fact-finding can expose a defendant to death under Florida law. Pursuant to Ring , this scheme violates the Sixth Amendment.
 
In Alabama, we have a similar scheme; however, by statute, a capital conviction exposes a defendant to LWOP or death -- a Florida conviction, standing alone, only exposes a defendant to LWOP. After receiving a recommendation from the jury, the Alabama judge makes the final determination of what sentence to impose. So the sentencing decision still falls upon the judge in Alabama.
 
Whether the Alabama system holds a distinction without a real difference from the Florida law will be litigated in the very near future. Regardless, the reins have been tightened a little more on the death penalty.
 
 
For more information on the decision, click here.

 

 

If you or someone you know has been convicted of wrongful criminal charges, there is hope after the trial. Contact us today by clicking HERE.



 

 

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