March 01, 2009

Jurisdiction in Need: Alabama

Based on recently released data, Alabama sentenced more people to death per capita in 2006 than any other state in the country.  But Alabama has yet to adopt a statewide public defender office or to implement close oversight of indigent legal services. 

Despite regular efforts in the legislature, Alabama’s failure to implement necessary reforms has helped to propagate a system that the ABA has found does not provide uniform, quality representation to the majority of indigent defendants and one that weighs particularly heavily on capital defendants.  However, the state’s most significant obstacles occur after trial.  Alabama is one of a few states in the nation that does not provide indigent capital inmates counsel during state post-conviction proceedings, leaving impoverished Death Row prisoners to find their own attorneys during the appeal process.

In addition to an unprecedented number of prisoners who need post-conviction counsel in Alabama this year, the Alabama Supreme Court has already set five execution dates for 2009 and will likely set more.  The numbers have not been this high since 1949.  Serious problems with indigent defense at the trial level, combined with judicial override of life verdicts and an increasingly politicized elected judiciary, have made the political and legal environment very challenging.  According to the Equal Justice Initiative, in the next six months there are eighteen people on Death Row facing post-conviction filing deadlines who have no lawyers, no right to counsel, and will forfeit all appeal rights without volunteer legal assistance. 

The Project is currently seeking volunteer counsel for several cases in Alabama.  Please contact us at (202) 662-1738 for more information on how you can help.