The Alabama legislature today passed a bill that ends the practice of judicial override in death penalty cases.
No capital sentencing procedure in the United States has come under more criticism as unreliable, unpredictable, and arbitrary than the unique Alabama practice of permitting elected trial judges to override jury verdicts of life and impose death sentences.
Alabama is the only state where judges have routinely overridden jury verdicts of life to impose death sentences. Since 1976, Alabama judges have overridden jury life verdicts over one hundred times.
Florida abolished override in 2016 after the United States Supreme Court struck down the state’s capital sentencing statute as unconstitutional in Hurst v. Florida. No death sentences had been imposed by override in Florida since 1999. The only other state in the country that permitted judicial override was Delaware, but the Delaware Supreme Court ruled the state’s death penalty statute unconstitutional in 2016.
UPDATE: Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed the bill into law on April 11, 2017.