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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

U.S. Supreme Court tells Alabama appeals court to reconsider death penalty

The U.S. Supreme Court has directed that an Alabama appeals court reconsider a death penalty case in light of its January 2016 ruling that found Florida's death penalty system is unconstitutional.

That ruling in Hurst vs. Florida, faulted Florida for letting a judge, not a jury, determine the punishment. The court found that system unconstitutional.

Today, the high court directed the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals to reconsider the death sentence for Bart Johnson, who was convicted in 2011 of killing a Pelham Police Department officer in 2009. The court's order said the appeals court should consider the case, "in light of Hurst vs. Florida."

Alabama's death penalty system is very similar to Florida's. Today's order could have far-reaching implications for the state's death penalty system.

The Alabama Attorney General's office has argued the Florida ruling doesn't apply to Alabama since a jury - even if it recommends against a death sentence - has to find an aggravating factor in order to convict a defendant of capital murder.

Under Alabama's death penalty system the same jury that convicts someone of capital murder is then asked to consider aggravating and mitigating factors in determining if the death penalty or life in prison without parole is the right sentence.

Alabama law requires 10 out of 12 jurors for a death penalty recommendation. But either way, the judge gets the final say on sentencing and can overrule the jury's recommendation.

10 of 12 jurors in the Johnson case recommended the death penalty and the judge agreed.

Source: WHNT news, May 2, 2016

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