I shouldn’t be surprised. Alabama is one of only four states that permit judges to override jury recommendations in capital cases, and it is the only one of the four that chooses judges in partisan elections. And 90% of the time, the override goes in the direction of imposing the death penalty when the jury has recommended life.
Rep. Demetrius Newton (D-Birmingham) had proposed a bill that would require judges to follow the juries’ recommendation in these cases, but the House failed yesterday to pass a Budget Isolation Resolution that would have permitted a vote on the bill, effectively killing it.
Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, the bill’s sponsor, said he believes circuit judges too often impose the death penalty when juries recommend life in prison because of political pressure. Judges are elected in Alabama.
But Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, said judges need to override juries when they clearly disregard the law and suggest an improper punishment.
Oh, please. This is Alabama, where over 70% of the population strongly supports the death penalty. Not only that, I’m pretty sure that prosecutors “death qualify” juries, excluding those who would refuse to vote for the death penalty under any circumstances. (Wheeler, feel free to jump in here as this is your area of expertise). So just how likely is it that Alabama juries are going to be soft on crime?
And how likely is it that Alabama judges will override a jury recommendation of death when they know that their opponents in the next election will paint them as criminal-loving bleeding heart weenies?
Let’s face it — most criminal defendants in Alabama don’t have the resources to hire Johnny Cochran. Alabama jurors aren’t likely to be dazzled by the star power of defense attorneys. If they convict a defendant of a capital crime, they’re already predisposed to impose the death penalty. If they recommend a life sentence instead, they probably have good reason for doing so. And they don’t have to run for re-election.
But legislators do.