Monday, February 13, 2023

Alabama still trying to get to unanimity to impose death sentences

 An Alabama lawmaker has introduced several bills dealing with criminal justice ahead of the upcoming legislative session, including one focused on death sentences, reports

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, prefiled several bills on Wednesday, including House Bill 14. The bill calls for a unanimous jury vote during the sentencing phase of a capital murder trial to put someone to death. It also provides an avenue for resentencing in certain circumstances.

Under current Alabama law, a jury can vote 10-2 and still impose a death sentence.

“Executing someone should be hard. It should be next to impossible,” England said. He also noted that a person cannot be convicted of capital murder without a unanimous jury decision, and said his bill would apply that logic to the sentencing phase of cases.

The document introducing HB14 said, “This bill would provide that a defendant may be resentenced if a judge sentenced him or her to a sentence other than the jury’s advisory sentence and if his or her death sentence was not unanimous.”

“This bill would repeal the existing code section relating to resentencing for certain defendants sentenced for capital murder,” it continued.

In 2017, Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law that juries, not judges, have the final say on whether to impose the death penalty in capital murder cases. It wasn’t retroactive, meaning people are still sitting on death row who were sent there against a jury’s recommendation. Those people would be eligible for resentencing under England’s bill-- meaning they could possibly serve life without parole instead of face being executed.

England said his bill’s resentencing clause would also apply to those who were sent to Alabama Death Row after juries voted 10-2, or 11-1, for the death penalty.

Alabama had been the only state in America that allowed a judge to override a jury’s recommendation when sentencing capital murder cases.

The law marked a win for death penalty opponents, but left Alabama as still the only state to allow a non-unanimous jury impose the death penalty.

England was one of the legislators who supported that bill, and at the time, his bill would have also required unanimous consent of all 12 jurors to recommend a death sentence. That didn’t change under the law ultimately passed by the legislature and signed by Ivey.

England said if the death penalty is going to exist in Alabama, it should be reserved for the worst criminals, whom juries felt sure were culpable of their crimes and were in agreement that capital punishment was the right decision.

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