Under current law, only 10 of 12 jurors must agree on the death penalty to sentence someone to death in Alabama.
In the past, a judge could also overrule the jury and impose the death sentence regardless of the jury’s decision in a process called judicial override.
The Alabama Legislature ended judicial override in 2017, but the final version of the bill did not apply retroactively, meaning everyone sentenced to death by judicial override prior to the passage of the law remains on death row.
A bill pre-filed by Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, would remove those individuals from death row, as well as any others sentenced to death by a jury of 10 or 11 voters.
“My aspirational goal would be to get rid of the death penalty, but that’s very unlikely at the moment,” England said. “We need to make it as hard as possible for us to put someone to death. We’re talking about life here and talking about the state of Alabama executing someone on its citizens’ behalf.”
In addition to amending the current law to require a unanimous verdict, the bill adds a section ordering the resentencing of individuals sentenced prior to the effective date of the act.
“It takes a unanimous jury to convict someone of a crime, why not take a unanimous jury to impose the penalty for that crime?” England said. “Especially when you’re talking about putting someone to death. Over the course of history, if we decided that judicial override was wrong and we got rid of it, and there are people still on death row who were sentenced as a result of judicial overreach, they should be awarded that same deference. We decided that was wrong.”