For the second time this month, the United States Supreme Court today granted review, vacated the judgment, and remanded to the state court in the case of an Alabama death row prisoner who challenged his death sentence after the Court struck down an identical death sentencing system in Hurst v. Florida earlier this year.
On January 12, the Supreme Court held in Hurst v. Florida that Florida’s capital sentencing scheme violates the Sixth Amendment’s requirement that a jury, not a judge, must find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death. Because a Florida jury’s recommendation is only advisory and may be overruled by the trial judge, who alone makes the findings necessary to impose death, the “jury’s mere recommendation is not enough.”
Alabama’s death penalty system has the same defect that was declared unconstitutional in Hurst. On May 2, the Court granted review in the Alabama case of Bart Johnson, whom the judge sentenced to death based on finding two aggravating factors that were not clearly found by the jury.
Today, the Court granted review in a second Alabama case in which the judge imposed a death sentence after a jury failed to unanimously vote for death. The Court vacated the state court’s judgment upholding Corey Wimbley’s death sentence and remanded for reconsideration in light of Hurst.
The decision today highlights the questions about whether Alabama’s capital sentencing statute comports with the Constitution.