The Equal Justice Initiative report, The Death Penalty in Alabama: Judge Override, is available in Adobe .pdf format.
"Alabama judges routinely override juries in death penalty cases, new report says," is the title of the Mobile Press-Register report.
A new report from the Equal Justice Initiative says that of the 34 U.S. states with the death penalty, Alabama is the only jurisdiction where judges routinely override jury verdicts of life to impose capital punishment.
Since 1976, according to the report, Alabama judges have overridden jury verdicts 107 times. Although judges have authority to override life or death verdicts, in 92 percent of overrides elected judges have overruled jury verdicts of life to impose the death penalty.
"No capital sentencing procedure in the united States has come under more criticism as unreliable, unpredictable, and arbitrary than the unique Alabama practice of permitting elected trial judges to override jury verdicts of life and impose death sentences," the Montgomery-based organization wrote.
The organization claims that judicial override of jury recommendations "is the primary reason why Alabama has the highest per-capita death sentencing rate and execution rate in the country." Last year, according to the Equal Justice Initiative, Alabama, with a population of 4.5 million people, imposed more new death sentences than Texas, with a population of 24 million.
"Alabama Judges Overriding Jury Sentences in Murder Cases Rarely Opt for Leniency," is by Debra Cassens Weiss for the ABA Journal.
Giving judges the power to override the sentencing decisions of capital juries could be an important check on overzealous decisions.
But in Alabama, judges overriding juries deciding capital cases overwhelmingly favor the death penalty, the New York Times reports. A new report by the Equal Justice Initiative has found that, since 1976, judges rejected sentencing recommendations of capital juries in 107 cases. In 92 percent of those cases, judges overrode a life sentence recommendation and sentenced the defendant to death.
ThomsonReuters daily legal-news aggregator, Summary Judgments, has, "Alabama's hanging judges."
Alabama judges have overruled the recommendations of juries by imposing the death penalty 107 times since 1976, according to a study by the Equal Justice Institute. These so-called override sentences account for more than 20 percent of the population of Alabama's death row and contribute to the highest per-capita death sentencing of any state, the New York Times reports, citing a study by the Equal Justice Initiative. Two other states, Delaware and Florida, have similar override systems. But there are no pending death sentences in Delaware due to overrides, while overrides haven't led to an execution in Florida since 1999. Alabama's last death sentence override came this past March.
"Alabama Judges Impose Death Though Juries Vote For Life In Prison," is John Rudolf report at Huffington Post.
Last November, jurors in Lee County, Ala., found Courtney Lockhart, a 26-year-old Iraq War veteran, guilty of the 2008 murder of Lauren Burk, an 18-year-old college student.
During sentencing, all 12 members of the jury recommended that Lockhart serve life in prison without the possibility of parole for his crime. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, but the defense argued for lenience, presenting evidence that Lockhart had suffered psychological damage during a bloody 16-month combat tour in Iraq.
The jurors' unanimous decision to spare the Lockhart's life was not the final word, however. On March 3, 2011, Judge Jacob Walker, who presided over the trial, nullified the jury's recommendation of life without parole and sentenced Lockhart to death by lethal injection.
In a lengthy decision, the judge wrote that Lockhart deserved death because of evidence of other crimes not presented by prosecutors during his trial. Had the jury heard these "additional facts," he wrote, "their sentencing recommendation would likely have differed."
In virtually all 35 states that allow the death penalty, juries are the supreme arbiter of whether capital defendants live or die. But not in Alabama. Since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty after a four-year ban, Alabama judges have held the power to overturn the sentencing recommendations of juries in capital cases.
Since then, state judges have overturned 107 jury decisions in capital cases, and in 92 percent of those cases, jury recommendations of life imprisonment were rejected in favor of death sentences, according to a new report by the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit law firm based in Montgomery, Ala.
The group's report is strongly critical of the practice, calling it arbitrary and lacking meaningful standards or oversight.
At the Atlanta Post, J. Smith offers the commentary, "Alabama Judges Are Infatuated With The Death Penalty."
America is in love with the death penalty. So much so, in fact, that some of the 35 states that perform executions are itching for new lethal injection combinations because other countries that manufacture the traditional death penalty drug have either stopped producing it or refused to sell it to the United States. But very little can get in the way of Alabama judges and their thirst to keep death row occupied.
As a native Texan, I am never surprised by overzealousness in enforcing the death penalty, but this loophole Alabama has wiggled itself into goes too far. Why even assign the task of recommending punishments to a jury if the judge can veto it at his or her wanton discretion?
Earlier coverage of the EJI report on judicial overrides begins at the link.