In a rare show of bipartisanship, the Alabama House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved a proposal to end the state’s controversial sanction of the death penalty judicial override, says the Alabama Political Reporter. Alabama is the only state that permits judges to overrule a jury’s recommendation and sentence a defendant to death. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, also jury unanimity in deciding on the death penalty – a change from the current law, which requires at least 10 members of the 12-person jury. “If it has to be unanimous to convict, it should be unanimous to sentence a person to die,” England said.
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. The Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery, Ala.-based advocacy group led by Bryan Stevenson, has been a sharp critic of Alabama’s judicial override. It found that Alabama judges had overridden jury recommendations in capital cases 112 times since 1976. In nine out of 10 instances, judges have overridden jury verdicts of life imprisonment to impose death sentences. The group says about 20 percent of all death row inmates in Alabama got there by a judicial override.