A bill that would change Alabama law to give juries the final word on whether to impose a death sentence or life in prison won approval today in the House Judiciary Committee.
Under current law, judges can override the sentence recommendations of juries in capital cases. No other state allows that.
A bill by Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, would say that juries determine the sentences in capital cases, which are either death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
England's bill would also require all 12 jurors to hand down a death sentence.
Current law requires 10 of 12 jurors to recommend death.
"To me, it never really made sense that we require unanimity when we're convicting a person, but we don't require unanimity when we're putting that person to death," said England, who is a lawyer.
The committee approved England's bill on a 10-2 vote, sending it to the full House.
The committee rejected an amendment by Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, that would have retained the threshold of 10 jurors for a death sentence.
Hill, a retired circuit judge, voted in favor of England's bill.
Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a similar bill by Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery.
Brewbaker's bill does not change the threshold of 10 jurors to recommend death.
A report released in 2011 by the Equal Justice Initiative found that Alabama judges had overridden jury recommendations in capital cases 107 times since 1976.
In 92 % of those cases, judges had overridden jury verdicts of life imprisonment to impose death sentences.
Judges are elected in Alabama. England did not say judges issue death sentences for political reasons. But he said said ending the authority of judges to override juries and requiring unanimous jury agreement on death sentences would improve public confidence in the judicial system.
Voting in favor of England's bill were Reps. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia; Hill; Thad McClammy, D-Montgomery; Paul Beckman, R-Prattville; Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove; Dickie Drake, R-Leeds; Allen Farley, R-McCalla; Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham; and Mike Holmes, R-Wetumpka.
Voting against it were Reps. Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo and Phillip Pettus, R-Killen.
Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, abstained.
Source: al.com, February 16, 2017
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