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


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



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.