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Sen. Hank Sanders to Introduce Four Death Penalty Bills in 2013

by: julie

Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 15:30:09 PM CST


Sen. Hank Sanders (D-23), has introduced four separate death penalty bills for the 2013 session.  SB 30-34 will be reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It is not my intent in this post to argue for or against the death penalty itself (most people have their minds made up on this subject), but to briefly examine each bill in light of how it might serve to improve our justice system, and benefit the people of Alabama.  I think any move toward establishing a fairer system benefits everyone, and never more than when we look at the state's right to deprive you of your life. 

I fully support SB 33, which would provide a 3 year moratorium on executions while the system is overhauled. Lord knows it needs it.

Alabama likes to execute people, especially in election years when "tough on crime" judges need to bolster their image in the public eye. Our execution rate is the sixth highest in the USA.  In light of this Old Testament approach to justice in general, I think we can all agree that implementing measures to ensure more fairness and equity in imposing the "ultimate sentence" is important. Right now, what we have is a very unfair system where the poor, especially minority poor, are put to death and the wealthy escape the death penalty because they have competent counsel.

For instance, the oft-heard phrase "If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you" has a slightly different flavor in a capital case if you know that:

Alabama has no statewide public defender system. Court appointed defense attorneys are paid at $40 an hour for time spent outside court and $60 for time spent in court, significantly below the market rate for lawyers in private practice. ...One lawyer said the court paid him the equivalent of $4.98 per hour to defend his client's life.

ACLU Report Broken Justice: The Death Penalty in Alabama 10/05

SB 31 seeks to establish standards and procedures by which a court can determine whether a defendant is mentally retarded, thus bringing our judicial system a little closer to the 21st century and the Supreme Court ruling in Atkins v. Virginia.

-the Supreme Court reconsidered the issue in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002).

After applying society’s evolved standards of decency, the Court reversed its earlier holding, finding in Atkins that executing mentally retarded offenders violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. In Atkins, the Court found that mental retardation directly affects a criminal offender’s culpability.

[Journal of International and Business Studies, Juvenile offenders and the death penalty in the United States.]

SB 34 "would prohibit the imposition of the death penalty for any criminal defendant who was less than 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the capital offense." At that time, only the USA and Iran imposed the death penalty on minors. [some sources mentioned Somalia] Is Iran our shining example of justice here in Alabama? Some of the American Taliban evidently think so. Again, applying the same standard already upheld by the Supreme Court in Roper v. Simmons seems sensible - if only to save the trouble and expense of defending the decision.  SCOTUS already sent Alabama packing on this exact issue not long ago.

 In Exparte Adams, 955 So 2d. 1106 (Ala. 2005), the Supreme Court of Alabama remanded the death sentence of a juvenile for a rehearing in light of the Roper decision. The State of Alabama later sought review in the United States Supreme Court, on a single issue, “Whether this Court should reconsider its decision in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005).

The Supreme Court denied certiorari with a published dissent on June 19, 2006; thereby re-establishing Roper as good law.

[Journal of International and Business Studies, Juvenile offenders and the death penalty in the United States.]

update:  On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court issued an historic ruling in Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs holding that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger convicted of homicide are unconstitutional.(EJI)

SB 32 Gets rid of what is known as "judicial override". There is only one instance where I would find this acceptable, and that is if a judge decides to grant life rather than impose death. A small amendment to the bill to allow this would be encouraging. Under current Alabama law, the Judge in a capital case can overrule a jury's recommendation for life without parole and impose the death sentence. Prior to reading about this, I would have thought judicial override was to protect defendants from bloodthirsty local juries, but it seems the opposite is true in Alabama:

A new report from the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama exposes the practice of state judges imposing death sentences by overriding a jury's recommendation for life.  EJI's study found that judges in the state have overridden jury recommendations 107 times since 1976.  In 92% of the overrides, judges overruled life verdicts to impose a death sentence.  

  "Alabama is one of only three states, along with Delaware and Florida, where this is allowed. In Alabama a jury needs a 10-2 vote to recommend a life or death sentence. In 10 cases a 12-0 recommendation for a life without parole sentence was over-ridden by a judge issuing the death sentence." [wiki -Capital Punishment Alabama

Last but not least by any means is SB 30, repealing the death penalty altogether. I don't have a lot of hope this will pass, but consideration for the fact that at least 6 Death Row inmates in the State have later been exonerated should give one pause.

Consider the case of Freddie Lee Wright: 

 

Freddie Lee Wright, executed 3/3/2000

Wright's first trial ended in a mistrial with eleven out of twelve jurors voting to acquit. - No physical evidence linked Wright to the crime. - Wright's co-defendants testified against him in exchange for receiving lesser sentences. Two of those co-defendants later recanted. One named another man as the killer. - The man who was originally arrested for the crime was never tried, even though his gun was identified as the murder weapon. - Key exculpatory evidence was suppressed by the prosecution. - The prosecution in Wright's second trial excluded all African-American persons from serving on the jury. - The detective who did much of the state's investigation admitted in court that he "bullshits his witnesses to get confessions" and that he lied to one of the co-defendants toward this end. - Two state Supreme Court justices voted to stay Wright's execution finding clear and convincing evidence of his innocence.

Full story here: http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/death/US/wright618.htm

julie :: Sen. Hank Sanders to Introduce Four Death Penalty Bills in 2013
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The slightly positive side in Montgomery. (4.00 / 2)

If one has a high profile murder case in Montgomery County, criminal defense lawyers nearly knock each other over to get the case. They need the publicity to bring in the higher paying defense cases.

I am hopeful that even though Alabama is married to automatic weapons, the citizens who see the inequities in death penalty cases may actually do something with these bills. I never thought Alabama would switch to lethal injection. 



High Profile is good I guess (4.00 / 1)

But I think the ones who die are the low profile, shabby ones committed by people who don't look good on the news.

The standard for the appointment is low - the attorney need not ever have defended a capital case. All he or she needs is five years in criminal law - perhaps defending shoplifters and pot smokers.

A lot of those post-conviction appeals are quite justified.



A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. -Churchill

[ Parent ]
re post-conviction appeals (4.00 / 1)

Alabama has a strange little system. The State does not provide an attorney once you're convicted, but the State WILL provide counsel on an appeal AFTER you have filed it. Sounds to me like you need to be a decent jailhouse lawyer to get any counsel post conviction.

 



A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. -Churchill

[ Parent ]
We need to check the facts. (4.00 / 2)

I have just learned from a learned attorney that to be the lead attorney in a capital case, he/she has to have tried a capital case. For example, the learned attorney was only appointed to second chair because he had never tried a capital case before.

 I still agree with you, however, that the poor tend to get the worst representation. 

I know someone to worked for EJI last year who worked incredibly hard finding mitigating circumstances so that her client would not receive the death penalty. Then EJI sends the case with much leg work already done to a large firm who needs to do some pro bono work. 



[ Parent ]
that's good to know (4.00 / 1)
my information comes from national sources quite often, and they aren't always up to date.

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. -Churchill

[ Parent ]
death penalty (4.00 / 1)
i am against the death penalty except when and if i get to decide who hangs and who don't. i expect little or no progress on the issue -- we might see one of the bills amended to establish firing squad executions. hey, this is alabama.

any word on mandatory sentencing? (4.00 / 2)

SCOTUS has moved beyond Roper and said that now mandatory life sentences (ie, death in prison) are not allowed for minors under 18.  Is there a bill in the works to bring us into compliance with that?  Otherwise there will be a raft of appeals under the current system.  http://www.eji.org/childrenprison/deathinprison

I did not understand your sentence that only the US and Iran impose the death penalty on minors-- have there been any new death sentences of minors since Roper (as opposed to appeals of prior sentences)? It is outrageous that we were in this situation until as late as 2005, but I was under the impression death sentences for minors could no longer be issued and that SB 34 was one of those clean up the law things. 

Far too many in the public do not understand that the mere existence of a death penalty costs us huge amounts of money and court resources.  Many cases for adults would be quickly settled with life sentences and are only tried in an attempt not to add to the death count. 

Although the continued issuing of death penalties for adults gives me the impression we are just awfully bloodthirsty folks, I have been told that often victims' families do NOT want death on the table and have to be revved up by prosecutors who want their splashy cases. With what you say about judges overriding the juries, looks like juries may not be so bloodthirsty either.  So where is all this desire to kill coming from?  Is it really a factor in judicial and DA elections?  Or does it have more to do with the free publicity they get for these trials?



a fatal D was left out! (0.00 / 0)


A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. -Churchill

Mandatory life for juveniles (0.00 / 0)

is still possible.

 Under the Supreme Court's ruling, minors can still get life without parole sentences — just not automatically after a conviction; instead a judge will need to decide, taking into account the minor's youth...

 "It is the (Alabama) Attorney General's position that this rule does not apply retroactively," Alabama Solicitor General John C. Neiman Jr. told us. "Ultimately whether it will apply retroactively is going to be a question that will be litigated in, and decided by, the courts."

Pro Publica, 8/2/12



A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. -Churchill

[ Parent ]
"mandatory" (0.00 / 0)

will not be in the ruling, but the end result will be the same.

If it's up to the judges, and they override life for death, I imagine they will also dole out life without parole on the same scale.



A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. -Churchill

[ Parent ]
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