Alabama Supreme Court upholds judicial override in capital cases
The Alabama Supreme Court has upheld the state’s capital sentencing scheme in which judges can impose the death penalty even if jurors recommend a prison sentence.
The court said judicial override does not violate the right to a trial by jury because jurors still determine whether aggravating factors make a defendant eligible for the death penalty.
The defendant, Jerry Bohannon, had contended that the Sixth Amendment requires jurors to determine not only the existence of any aggravating circumstances, but also whether aggravating circumstances outweigh any mitigating factors.
Bonhannon cited Hurst v. Florida, a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down Florida’s advisory death penalty scheme. That decision said Florida law improperly allowed judges to determine aggravating circumstances meriting the death penalty. Florida also allowed judges to impose the death penalty despite contrary jury recommendations, but those provisions weren’t struck down.
Florida’s revised law nonetheless eliminated judicial override. Alabama is the only state that still allows judicial override, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.