On October 8, 2009, the Alabama Supreme Court and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals heard oral arguments at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, as part of the court system’s outreach and education efforts. EJI attorneys were asked by the courts to participate in both oral arguments.
The first argument was before the Alabama Supreme Court in Miller v. Governor Riley et al, a civil lawsuit filed by EJI on behalf of Andrew Miller, a severely mentally ill man who is barred from getting the care he needs by Alabama’s Community Notification Act.
Mr. Miller, who is developmentally and physically disabled in addition to suffering from vision problems and severe mental illness, cannot live with his siblings, who want to shelter and care for him, because he was mistakenly transferred to adult court and convicted of a sexual assault when he was 15.
He served his entire 20-year sentence in prison and now is being subjected to adult residency requirements that prevent him from getting the care he requires. EJI attorneys argued that the Alabama Supreme Court should reverse the Montgomery Circuit Court’s ruling denying Mr. Miller an injunction and allow him to live with his siblings or in a group home.
EJI attorneys also argued before the Court of Criminal Appeals, which heard argument in Jackson v. State, a case in which a Jefferson County man was convicted of capital murder following a trial where the jury was allowed to consider illegal evidence. Demetrius Jackson, Jr., was sentenced to death by the trial judge even though the jury decided he should be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
Judicial override of life verdicts is a highly controversial practice, given that in every other aspect of a criminal case, the jury is the voice of the people. Alabama is the only state in the country that allows elected state court judges virtually unlimited discretion to override jury verdicts of life and impose death.
EJI attorneys frequently are asked by the Alabama appellate courts to participate in oral arguments conducted around the state as part of the courts’ educational efforts. Approximately 1100 high school students from around the state attended this year’s argument at Cumberland.