The rare, bipartisan push to end judicial override in Alabama

By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

There was a rare show of bipartisanship during Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee meeting, and even rarer step taken to end a long-outdated practice.

A bill that would bring an end to judicial override – the power that only Alabama now grants judges to overturn the decisions of juries and sentence a defendant to death – passed through the committee with bipartisan support.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) now goes to the floor for a vote.

“I think it just makes good common sense,” England said. “I believe a large number of juries aren’t giving the death penalty the proper weight and consideration because they know it will go to the judge who will have the ultimate say. This puts an end to that and I believe it will lead to a more thoughtful consideration.”

England’s bill also requires that juries be unanimous in deciding on the death penalty – a change from the current law, which requires at least 10 members of the 12-person jury.

An amendment that would have struck that language and kept the current law was also defeated by the committee.

“If it has to be unanimous to convict, it should be unanimous to sentence a person to die,” England said.

The attempt to strike the unanimity language was the only real pushback England’s bill received. Barry Matson, who heads the Office of Prosecution services, said district attorneys were more in favor of maintaining current law because of the reluctance of many people to impose death on another.

“I can do that, because I know I signed up for that,” Matson said. “The judge signed up for that. The jurors got a summons in the mail. It’s a tough thing for them.”

England said it should be.

“The death penalty is our most severe punishment,” he said. “It should be reserved for the worst of the worst.”

The bill now moves to the full House for consideration. A similar bill in the Senate – which doesn’t contain the unanimity language – was approved by committee last week and awaits a Senate vote.

 

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