Summer 2006

Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project Releases Alabama Report

The ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project released its second state assessment report on June 11, 2006. Evaluating Fairness and Accuracy in State Death Penalty Systems: The Alabama Death Penalty Assessment Report, a document designed to bring attention to a number of problems in the state’s death penalty system that undermine its fairness and accuracy, was developed by the Alabama Death Penalty Assessment Team on June 11, 2006. The report covers a number of proposed areas for reform that would help to improve Alabama’s current death penalty system. Research was conducted by an in-state team of current and former legislators, prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers, bar association leaders, and law school professors.

Among the problems identified by the Alabama team are that Alabama does not: ensure that all indigent defendants receive competent counsel at trial or on appeal; are automatically provided counsel in state post-conviction proceedings; provide a clear method to obtain DNA testing; or have a statute that ensures that mentally retarded defendants are protected from unconstitutional execution. Furthermore, Alabama allows judges to override a jury’s sentencing recommendation of life and replace it with a death sentence.

To fix some of the most glaring problems, the Alabama Team made six discrete recommendations including: that Alabama should eliminate judicial override of a jury’s recommendation of life without parole in capital cases; require that a jury be unanimous before it may recommend a sentence of death; create a statewide indigent defense commission that would be responsible for overseeing all indigent defense activities in the state; sponsor a study of the administration of its death penalty to determine the existence or non-existence of unacceptable socio-economic, racial, geographic, or other disparities; and establish a clearinghouse to collect data on its death penalty system to assist the court in conducting its statutorily required proportionality review.

In addition, because the problems identified were so significant that Alabama cannot ensure fairness and accuracy for every person who faces the death penalty, and because the necessary reforms have not yet been implemented, the team concluded that a temporary moratorium on executions should be imposed.

As of this issue’s printing, the report’s findings were covered by, among others, the Associated Press, the Birmingham News, and various Alabama television and radio stations. In addition, the Birmingham News published an opinion piece on the report co-written by ABA President Michael Greco and Alabama Team Leader Daniel Filler.

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