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


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



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.