The Montgomery Advertiser yesterday called for Alabama to eliminate judicial override in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Florida’s death penalty statute.
As the Supreme Court has recognized, Alabama’s capital sentencing scheme is the same as Florida’s scheme. Both require jury participation in the sentencing process but give ultimate sentencing authority to the trial judge, who may override a jury’s verdict for life imprisonment without parole and instead impose the death penalty. But while no Florida judge has overruled a jury recommendation of a life sentence for more than 15 years, Alabama judges have overridden life recommendations 101 times since 1976, including 26 since 2000.
The Montgomery Advertiser urged the state legislature “to quickly halt the tainted practice” of judicial override. “The override loophole opens the door to political corruption in capital cases, especially by judges eager to show they’re tough on crime in an election year.” Citing EJI research showing that judges ignore life recommendations from juries more frequently when a white victim is involved, the editorial board wrote that override “also greases the door for racial bias.” It warned that failing to act now will invite the Supreme Court to “come knocking at Alabama’s death row door, with a big legal bill.”
Editorials from every major paper in Alabama have condemned judge override. Papers including the Anniston Star, Birmingham News, Mobile Register, and Huntsville Times have called for an end to override for well over a decade.
Florida’s Tampa Bay Times observed this week that “Florida practically asked for the court’s rebuke by being one of only three states that does not require a unanimous jury decision in death sentencing cases, and for moving to speed up executions as other states have abandoned the death penalty in recent years.”
As the Montgomery Advertiser put it, Alabamians should “[g]et ready for similar, costly upheaval in Alabama courts,” which allow judges to override with even fewer restrictions than Florida.