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


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