U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court stays execution of Alabama man in judicial override case

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday granted a stay of execution to an Alabama inmate who contended a judge’s override of jurors’ life-in-prison recommendation is unconstitutional.

The stay of execution for 67-year-old Vernon Madison remains in place at least until the Supreme Court decides whether to hear his case. Three justices would not have granted the stay: Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch. The Wall Street Journal and AL.com have coverage.

A law enacted last year in Alabama eliminates the ability of judges to override juries’ recommendations in capital cases. The cert petition argues that executing Madison would be arbitrary and capricious now that the state has abolished judicial override.

Florida and Delaware, the only other states that permitted judicial override, abolished the practice after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January 2016 that the Florida system of allowing jurors to make advisory capital-punishment recommendations violated the Sixth Amendment.

“No state currently allows a judge to override a jury’s capital sentencing verdict,” says the cert petition filed by Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative. “This constitutes not merely ‘national consensus,’ … but unanimous agreement that a sentence of death imposed by a judge contrary to a jury’s life verdict does not comport with our evolving standards of decency and the Eighth Amendment,”

Lawyers for the state of Alabama countered that Madison’s lawyers raised the override issue with the Supreme Court the day before his scheduled execution, and the delay warrants denying the stay.

Madison has been on death row for more than 30 years for killing a police officer responding to a call of a domestic dispute. Madison was also accused of shooting his girlfriend, who survived.

Madison was tried three times, the last time in April 1994. The Supreme Court denied a stay in Madison’s case last year that was based on a claim he couldn’t remember the crimes he committed after suffering a series of strokes.

The judge in Madison’s last trial has overridden more jury life verdicts than any other single Alabama judge, according to the cert petition.

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