No capital murder sentencing procedure in the United States has been more criticized than that of Alabama’s. As the only state in the country that permits elected trial judges to override jury verdicts to give criminals the death penalty instead of a life sentence, Alabama’s judicial sentencing procedures are once again the topic of debate.
On April 4, when lawmakers from the Alabama House of Representatives return from a two-week spring break, they will debate this controversial 1976 policy that has resulted in judicial overrides 107 times in the past four decades.
Last month, the Alabama Senate approved a similar bill doing doing away with judicial override on a 30-1 bipartisan vote.
Pike Road- Republican stateSen. Dick Brewbaker, the bill’s sponsor, clarified the bill only affects future cases and not any inmates currently on death row. He says judicial override in death penalty cases is contrary to the tradition of American justice that a jury from the community should determine both the verdict and sentence.
In a recent study by the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative, one of the groups opposed the state’s death penalty system, found that in nearly all of those cases judges imposed death sentences. The study also revealed twenty-one percent of 199 people currently on the state’s death row were sentenced through such judicial overrides.
[Photo Credit: Yolanda Martinez | The Marshall Project]