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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.

Is the Supreme Court going to reconsider the constitutionality of the death penalty?

J.D. Lloyd - Friday, January 15, 2016
A death-row Pennsylvania defendant has asked the United States Supreme Court to reconsider the constitutionality of the death penalty. Relying upon the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment,” Shonda Walter contends that the time has come for the Court to end the practice once and for all.
 
Ms. Walter makes two arguments in petition asking the Supreme Court for review. First, she argues our standards of decency have evolved to a point where the death penalty is no longer “constitutionally sustainable.” Her petition cites the declining frequency in which the death penalty is imposed, the declining number of states where the death penalty is actually carried out, and the growing international consensus against the death penalty.
 
Second, Ms. Walter argues the legal framework surrounding the imposition of the death penalty is broken. Specifically, she contends that since the death penalty was reinstated almost 40 years ago, our laws have failed to ensure a system that’s reliable, consistent, not-arbitrary and “equally just.”
 
We could hear very soon whether the Supreme Court is going to revisit whether it’s time to do away with the death penalty in the United States. It only takes four justices to agree to hear a case. Just last term, Justice Stephen Breyer argued in decision that the Court should consider the constitutionality once again.
 
For anyone interested in this battle, I'd highly encourage you to read Ms. Walter's petition 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.

 

 

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