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Former governors support bill for resentencing judicial override cases

Judicial override previously allowed judges to usurp a jury and sentence someone to death.

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Two former Alabama governors are publicly announcing their support for a bill that would allow individuals sentenced to death by a judge who overrode a jury to be re-sentenced.

Don Siegelman and Robert Bentley are the two former governors backing legislation, HB27, allowing resentencing for those sentenced by judicial override.

Judicial override is a now defunct judicial practice where judges could usurp an advisory sentence provided by a jury and sentence an individual to death in capital murder cases. In 2017 Alabama ceased the practice but many people were and remain on death row as a result of judicial override. Currently, there are 30 individuals sentenced to death by judicial override in Alabama.

“As former Alabama Governors, Robert Bentley and I, join in supporting HB27 which corrects the oversight in the 2017 ban and will apply the Alabama law and the Supreme Court ruling of 2016 retroactively,” they said.

Sponsored by Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, the legislation states that, “a defendant may be resentenced if a judge sentenced him or her to a sentence other than the jury’s advisory sentence.”

In January, Alabama executed Kenneth Smith using nitrogen hypoxia but under this bill Smith would have been eligible to be re-sentenced before his death. In 1996, a jury voted 11-1 for Smith to receive life in prison for his role in the murder for hire death of Elizabeth Sennett. However, judge Pride Tompkins overruled that recommendation and sentenced Smith to death.

Patrick Darrington is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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