MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama House of Representatives is debating a bill that could limit when state judges chose to impose the death penalty. Filed by Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa), the new law would prevent judges from sentencing convicted people to death if a jury recommended life in prison.
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.
The House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on Wednesday afternoon. A similar bill was approved by the Senate’s Judiciary Committee last week.
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.