House approves legislation to streamline death penalty appeals

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The Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that would streamline the appeals process for death row inmates.

SB187, the Fair Justice Act, streamlines the appeals process by requiring inmates to raise claims such as ineffective counsel at the same time as direct appeal claiming trial errors. It was approved by the House 74-26.

The bill’s sponsor, Alabaster-Republican Sen. Cam Ward says the bill should drop the appeals time from roughly 18 years down to nine. However, many House Democrats argue it increases the chances the state could execute an innocent person.

Attorney General Steve Marshall disagrees. He thinks the bill is the solution to the state’s inefficient appeals process.

“There is no doubt that Alabama’s system for reviewing capital cases is inefficient and in need of repair,” said Marshall. “The average death row inmate appeal time is over 15 years and rising. Each year that these appeals drag on, the general public is further removed from and even desensitized to the horrendous crimes that led to the sentences of every individual on death row. But, for the families of victims, the pain is not numbed with the passing of years. The endless appeals process reopens their wounds again and again.”

Marshall continued, “This legislation is about justice, and justice should be fair and swift.  The Fair Justice Act takes nothing away from a death row inmate in terms of the courts reviewing his case, but streamlines the appellate process so that the direct appeal and the state post-conviction stage occur simultaneously.”

The Fair Justice Act passed the Alabama Senate on April 18. It will return to the Senate for concurrence or conference committee.

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