"Alabama attorney general backs bill 'streamlining' death penalty appeals process," is by Brian Lyman for the Montgomery Advertiser.
Currently, the appeal of a capital sentence moves through three phases. The convicted individual first has a direct appeal process, addressing issues and facts in the case. That process goes through the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, the Alabama Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
If that round of appeals is exhausted, a Rule 32 process begins, where issues such as the effectiveness of counsel or the availability of evidence for the defense is argued. That process goes through the Alabama Circuit Court, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, the Alabama Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
If that round of appeals ends, the case may go to federal courts, where constitutional issues may be raised. If the U.S. Supreme Court refuses appeal, the inmate will be executed, barring commutation by the governor.
The Rule 32 process cannot begin until the direct appeal process concludes. Under Strange’s proposal, those convicted of capital crimes would have to file their Rule 32 petitions within 180 days of filing a direct appeal. In addition, a circuit court would have to make a decision on the appeal within 180 days of the completion of the direct appeal.
Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, said the death row inmates in Alabama already have serious issues finding adequate counsel to represent them during the appeals process.
In addition, he said, the state could end up spending money on a Rule 32 process that would be unnecessary if the inmate won on direct appeal. Additionally, issues that can be raised in the Rule 32 process, like the effectiveness of the accused’s attorney, cannot be raised in a direct appeal process, which could create problems.
There are many problems with the administration of the death penalty in Alabama, Stevenson said, but “the pace of the appeals is not on the top of that list. Having an unfair, unreliable death penalty that’s simply fast is nothing to be proud of.”
"Strange: Death penalty top priority," by Stephanie Nelson in the Andalusia Star News.
Attorney General Luther Strange is seeking to accelerate the pace of death penalty appeals in Alabama, noting decades can go by before inmates see the execution chamber.
Strange said a bill to streamline the death penalty appeals process will be a top priority for him in the upcoming legislative session.
Currently, a person given the death penalty has a series of direct appeals, first to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, and then to the Alabama Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court. After those are complete, the defendant can begin Rule 32 appeals, post-conviction appeals that look at other issues such as the trial lawyer’s competence.
The proposed legislation, dubbed The Fair Justice Act, would run both sets of appeals simultaneously. Capital defendants would be required to file Rule 32 petitions within 180 days of filing their first direct appeal.
Earlier coverage of Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange's proposal begins at the link.