Sotomayor Says AL Judges Succumb to Politics in Capital Cases


The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear the case of a man who was spared the death penalty by an Alabama jury only to be subsequently sentenced to death anyway by the trial judge, reports The Atlantic. But court watchers are buzzing about an unusual dissent by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote that Alabama’s elected judges “appear to have succumbed to electoral pressures” in wielding so-called “judicial overrides.” Twenty-six of the 27 uses of sentencing overrides since 2000 have occurred in Alabama, which joins Florida and Delaware as the only three states that allows the practice.

This week’s ruling involved Mario Woodward, convicted of the fatal shooting of Police Officer Keith Houts during a traffic stop in Montgomery in 2006. Citing work done on judicial overrides by the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative, Sotomayor wrote that the frequency of its usage in Alabama alone makes the practice unconstitutional. She wrote, “One Alabama judge, who has overridden jury verdicts to impose the death penalty on six occasions, campaigned by running several advertisements voicing his support for capital punishment.” One of his campaign ads named some of the defendants whom he had sentenced to death.

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