Bills to give juries final say in death penalty cases moving in Alabama Legislature

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A pair of state lawmakers sponsoring bills to give juries the final say in death penalty cases will hold a news conference in front of the State House Tuesday.

Pike Road Republican Sen. Dick Brewbacker and Tuscaloosa Democratic Rep. Chris England are both sponsoring bills that would disallow Alabama judges from overriding the jury sentencing recommendation in death penalty cases.

Alabama is the last state in the country that allows judges to override a jury’s sentencing recommendation in capital cases. Current law requires 10 of 12 jurors to recommend the death penalty.

The pair will be joined by Kimble Forrister, the state coordinator for advocacy group Alabama Arise, on the steps of the State House at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday to make their case for ending judicial overrides in Alabama.

The news conference is part of Alabama Arise’s 2017 Legislative Day, where the group will bring in advocates from around the state to discuss death penalty reform and the group’s other legislative efforts with state lawmakers.

Over the past 40 years, Alabama judges have overridden jury recommendations 107 times, more than 90 percent of the time to hand down a death sentence when a jury recommended life imprisonment.

Brewbacker’s bill, SB 16, has cleared the Senate Thursday with a 30-1 vote, while England’s version, HB 32, won approval from the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month.

The major difference between the two bills is that England’s version requires the jury recommendation to be unanimous, while Brewbacker’s bill leaves the 10 out of 12 threshold unchanged.

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