Alabama Has Highest Rate of Death Sentencing in the Country


Based on new data from the Bureau of Justice, Alabama leads the nation in the rate of new death sentences for the fifth straight year. Last year, Alabama sentenced more people to death than Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Virginia and Ohio combined. With a population of only 4.5 million people, Alabama’s 13 new death sentences was greater than the 11 new death sentences imposed in Texas, which has a population of 23.5 million people. A quarter of the death sentences in Alabama are a result of judicial override by elected judges, including Oscar Roy Doster, who received a unanimous 12-0 verdict for life that was replaced with a death sentence.

Alabama is now arguing in several cases that there is no right to counsel on direct appeal in state court for discretionary review by the Alabama Supreme Court. In several cases, direct appeal lawyers in Alabama have failed to appeal adverse judgments in the Court of Criminal Appeals to the Alabama Supreme Court, which is required to exhaust and properly preserve claims for federal review under Sullivan v. O’Boerckel. The State is now contending that no claim of ineffective assistance of counsel can be entertained because there is no Sixth Amendment right to counsel on state court direct appeal for discretionary appeals.

Several Alabama death row prisoners have no lawyers to file collateral postconviction petitions with statute of limitations deadlines approaching. EJI is currently seeking qualified, pro bono legal representation for Wilson Robitaille and Jimmy Brooks, who have no legal representation and are just a few months away from deadlines for initiating collateral review.

Indigent Defense reform remains critical in Alabama death penalty cases. The inability to obtain adequate legal assistance remains a crisis in Alabama. In two death penalty cases, direct appeal lawyers have failed to file pleadings, which may result in the forfeiture of all issues. A third death penalty case argued before the Court of Criminal Appeals last month involved a direct appeal brief filed by counsel that contained only 5 pages of argument and was 11 pages in its entirety.