MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Senate approved a bill on Thursday that prevents a judge from sentencing a person to death when a jury has recommended life in prison. Sponsored by Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery), the bill passed 30-1 and now heads to the House of Representatives.
Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) was the sole vote against Brewbaker’s proposal. He said that he believes a judge, rather than a jury of one’s peers, can decide “right sentence.” In 2016, Pittman also introduced a bill to execute people by firing squad, rather than by lethal injection.
A member of the overwhelming majority who voted yes, Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) said that continuing the current system would be “morally wrong.”
Currently, Alabama law allows for judicial override of jury recommendations in capital murder cases. England’s bill would change that, and it would also require unanimity among jurors to recommend the death penalty.
According to the Equal Justice Initiative, Alabama judges have overridden jury decisions 112 times. In 101 of those cases, the judge sentenced the person to death.
Capital punishment has existed in the United States since the nation’s founding, and 31 states plus the Federal Government utilize the death penalty as of November of 2016. The death penalty was temporarily suspended nationwide from 1972 to 1976 as a result of the case of Furman v. Georgia. There, the implementation of the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional because of disproportionate racial application. It was banned until states could prove it was being applied fairly.
The Supreme Court has never ruled the death penalty itself unconstitutional, although the court has decided that it is cruel and unusual to apply it to those who were under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed.