CALL 205.538.3340

The Law Office of J.D. Lloyd Logo Because There’s Hope After the Trial


After The Trial Blog

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

CCA Update - Hurst Mandamus

J.D. Lloyd - Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Friday we saw the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals uphold the constitutionality of Alabama’s capital-sentencing scheme in light of a ruling by Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Tracie Todd that the scheme was unconstitutional under the recent US Supreme Court decision of Hurst v. Florida.


Too long, don’t want to read version: Alabama’s capital scheme is not unconstitutional under Hurst, but Hurst will prevent judicial override in cases where (a) the guilt phase verdict does not automatically establish an aggravating circumstance under § 13A-5-49, and (b) the jury finds in the penalty phase that no aggravating circumstance exists beyond a reasonable doubt.


Ex parte State of Alabama

In re: Kenneth Eugene Billups (CR-15-0619)

In re: Stanley Brent Chapman (CR-15-0622)

In re: Terell Corey McMullin (CR-15-0623)

In re: Benjamin Todd Acton (CR-15-0624)



This case involves the ruling from Judge Tracie Todd of the Jefferson Circuit Court in which she held that the Alabama capital sentencing scheme is unconstitutional. In unrelated cases, Billups and Acton are charged with capital murder-robbery, a violation of § 13A-5-40(a)(2). In cases involving the same murders, Chapman and McMullin are each charged with two count capital murder-robbery (§ 13A-5-40(a)(2)), two counts each of capital murder-burglary (§ 13A-5-40(a)(4), and one count each of capital murder for killing more than one person in the same course of conduct (§ 13A-5-40(a)(10)).


Prior to their trials, the defendants moved to bar the imposition of the death penalty on the grounds that Alabama’s capital scheme is unconstitutional under Hurst. The Court granted the motion, finding the Alabama capital scheme unconstitutional. The State filed a petition for a writ of mandamus asking the Court of Criminal Appeals to order Judge Todd to vacate her order.



The Court begins its analysis by reviewing SCOTUS’s rulings in Apprendi v. New Jersey and Ring v. Arizona, emphasizing how Apprendi holds “any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proven beyond a reasonable doubt." Ring simply applied Apprendi to Arizona’s capital sentencing scheme. In looking at Hurst, the Court of Criminal Appeals observed that the Hurst opinion, like the Ring opinion, did nothing more than apply Apprendi to Florida’s capital sentencing scheme. The CCA explained:


“The [Hurst] Court noted that "[t]he analysis the Ring Court applied to Arizona's sentencing scheme applies equally to Florida's." Hurst, 577 U.S. at ___, 136 S.Ct. at 621-22. Florida's capital sentencing scheme as it then existed was similar to Arizona's in that the maximum sentence authorized by a jury verdict finding a defendant guilty of first-degree murder was life imprisonment without the possibility of parole; the defendant became eligible for the death penalty only if the trial court found the existence of an aggravating circumstance and found that there were insufficient mitigating circumstances to outweigh the aggravating circumstances.”

Ex parte State at * 14. The CCA concluded that Hurst “did nothing more than apply its previous holdings in Apprendi and Ring to Florida's capital sentencing scheme. The Court did not announce a new rule of constitutional law, nor did it expand its holdings in Apprendi and Ring. As the State correctly argues, "Hurst did not add anything of substance to Ring." (Petitions, p. 6.)”


The CCA zeroed in on how Ring and Hurst, applying Apprendi, focus on death penalty “eligibility,” the objective component of a death sentence. This, of course, is distinct from the subjective component of whether a death sentence is actually appropriate in a given case. The Court observed that the Alabama scheme only requires the jury to find one aggravating factor under § 13A-5-49 in order for a defendant to be “eligible” for a death sentence.


Under Apprendi, Ring, and Hurst, the crucial question is -- does the required finding that an aggravating circumstance exists expose the defendant to a greater punishment than that authorized by the jury's guilty verdict alone? In Alabama, unlike Arizona and Florida, the answer to that question depends on the capital offense at issue.


The CCA discussed how the Alabama capital statute includes “overlap” and “non-overlap” capital offense. A guilt-phase conviction of an “overlap” offenses automatically establishes the one aggravating circumstances under § 13A-5-49 required to impose a death sentence under § 13A-5-47. For example, a conviction of capital murder-robbery under § 13A-5-40(a)(2) “overlaps” with the aggravating factor that the murder was committed during a robbery pursuant to § 13A-5-49(4). On the other hand, a conviction for a non-overlap offense, such as murder committed by shooting from a vehicle, does not “overlap” with an aggravating factor found in § 13A-5-49.


In looking at “overlap” offenses, the Court concluded that there is no Hurst problem because the guilt-phase determination finds beyond reasonable doubt an aggravating factor under § 13A-5-49, which would make the defendant death-eligible under Apprendi, Ring, and Hurst. Likewise, the Court held that in non-overlap cases, if a jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt that an aggravator exists, he too is death eligible under Apprendi, Ring, and Hurst.


The Court recognized that Apprendi, Ring, and Hurst will foreclose a death sentence in a situation where a defendant is convicted of a “non-overlap” offense and the jury in the guilt phase determines that no

aggravating circumstance exists. In this situation, the trial court can only sentence the defendant to LWOP.

Getting Really Technical


The CCA also considered the very technical question of whether it had jurisdiction to consider the State’s request for a writ of mandamus.


In criminal cases, the State of Alabama has very few opportunities to appeal an adverse ruling. At times the State must ask for what’s called a “writ of mandamus” -- basically, an order from a higher court (the Court of Criminal Appeals or the Supreme Court) to mandate that a circuit court do something.  Mandamus is rarely granted and very hard to get. Basically, you have to show (a) you’re clearly entitled to the relief you seek, and (b) there’s no other option for you. The State often has to revert to mandamus requests because their right to appeal is so limited. Defendants have an even harder time getting mandamus since they have a broader right to appeal, and thus, a chance to rectify legal wrongs.


With respect to this issue, the Court found that there is no statute authorizing a state appeal on this question. Since a writ of mandamus can be issued to “prevent a gross disruption in the administration of criminal justice,” the Court concluded that it had jurisdiction to consider granting the writ because the situation at hand threatened a “gross disruption in the administration."



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.


Recent Posts


levins v state greene county alabama parole huntsville assault embezzlement department of justice Fentanyl hanceville alabama street racing alabama criminal law roundup alabama law enforcement agency CCA update limestone county alabama lethal injection drugs serial montgomery alabama concealed carry warrior alabama economic growth felony assaults gun control heritage christian university bessemer alabama fort payne alabama sentencing law and policy blog summaries judicial override steve avery fairfield alabama, ferguson missouri moore v texas narcotics investigation Adamsville alabama pinson alabama sexual assault Woods v State Kay Ivey moving violations capital offenses social media eugene lee jones v state abduction attempted murder Lucky D Arcade West Alabama drug possession, lethal injection homicide Stephen Breyer decatur alabama campbell v state smith v state endangerment of a child debit card skimming scams Xavier Beasley fraudulent checks fraud second amendment betton v state homicide rate tuscaloosa alabama avondale alabama peyton pruitt huntsville alabama hoax destructive devices mobile alabama Hillary Clinton, Guy Terrell Junior implied consent dekalb county alabama edwards v arizona warrantless blood draws Ingmire v State nicholas hawkins terell corey mcmullin south carolina drug seizure shelby county marion county christmas shooting benjamin todd acton clarence thomas mike gilotti hurst v florida alabama underage drinking banville v state gadsden alabama Sardis Alabama New York Times pelham alabama Walker County Alabama Glaze v State pell city alabama alfonso morris oneonta alabama arson shooting death madison alabama alabama supreme court crime of passion drug crimes public assistance fraud road rage texas § 13A-3-23 morgan county alabama LWOP sixth amendment talladega superspeedway kidnapping Marengo County Alabama heflin alabama Thomas Hardiman illegal gambling theft of property ring v arizona home repair fraud bernard v north dakota blountsville alabama mulga alabama maryland court of special appeals Malone v State strickland v washington morris alabama stanley brent chapman criminal justice reform, domestic violence Kareem Dacar Gaymon kenneth eugene billups baldwin county alabama boaz alabama tarrant alabama utah v strieff rainbow city alabama the mannequin challenge aiding and abetting lamar county drug trafficking, Wesley Adam Whitworth identity theft Eutaw Alabama birmingham alabama keith v state negligent homicide theft criminal justice drug activity Shonda Walker, Briarwood Presbyterian Church self defense asia mcclain death penalty armed robbery Easter § 13A-3-23(d) immunity hearing Gardendale Alabama Dylann Roof bailey v us cherokee county alabama netflix drug busts springville alabama nathan woods fake kidnapping, brian fredick lucas OJ Simpson criminal mischief fourth amendment mountain brook alabama hall v florida blount county alabama abuse eric sterling dothan alabama court of criminal appeals Tracie Todd dora alabama church robberies eleventh circuit ruling Justice Sotomayor 2016 election, sheffield v state calhoun county alabama gun rights abandonment Pleasant Grove Alabama William Pryor executions Mike Hubbard illegal gun carry department of justice, state of arizona debtor prison beylund v north dakota fultondale alabama towles v state operation bullseye brady v maryland anniston alabama, brookside alabama bomb threat state of alabama forced isolation shoplifting Rule 32 brendan dassey burglary mcwilliams v dunn ex parte briseno battles v state Donald Trump, Joshua Reese christian guitierez editorial court systems, breaking and entering Neil Gorsuch eighth amendment, mccalla alabama midazolam russell calhoun hurst mandamus aziz sayyed florence alabama domestic abuse drug smuggling mount olive alabama Alabaster alabama npr jerry bohannon OJ Simpson Made in America adnan syed, Tommy Arthur US Supreme Court Update brendan dassey, steve avery, making a murderer, scotus, netflix robberies cullman alabama ake v oklahoma legende v state adger alabama unlawful manufacturing animal cruelty Samuel Alito lauderdale county alabama Alonzo Ephraim Benn v State constitutional violations albertville alabama st clair county alabama foley alabama utah supreme court car accident SCOTUS, habeas corpus relief john earle redfearn IV v state making a murderer death penalty, Jefferson County Alabama pruitt v state 28 U.S.C. § 2254 stoves v state court of criminal appeal releases sarah koenig shooting Etowah County Alabama, scotus baltimore city circuit court capital punishment capital murder kimberly alabama murder constitutional law, prostitution sting operation crackdown minor offenses trussville alabama birchfield v north dakota hoover alabama apprendi v new jersey



These recoveries and testimonials are not an indication of future results. Every case is different, and regardless of what friends, family, or other individuals may say about what a case is worth, each case must be evaluated on its own facts and circumstances as they apply to the law. The valuation of a case depends on the facts, the injuries, the jurisdiction, the venue, the witnesses, the parties, and the testimony, among  other factors. Furthermore, no representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.

Get Free Legal Advice  Contact us for a complimentary legal consultation

I am interested in scheduling a free legal consultation and receiving additional information.

Submitting Form...

The server encountered an error.

Thank you, your  entry has been  received.

© 2017 The Law Office of J.D. Lloyd, LLC. All Rights Reserved. |


As required by Rule 7.2(e), Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct, no representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.