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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 -…

Alabama House votes to shorten death penalty appeals

The Alabama House of Representatives Tuesday approved a bill that would shorten the appeals process for those on death row.

The chamber voted 74 to 26 for the measure, long a priority of the Alabama attorney general’s office. The House amended the bill on the floor, which will send the measure back to the Senate.

The vote in the Montgomery County delegation fell down partisan lines. Democratic Reps. Alvin Holmes, John Knight and Thad McClammy of Montgomery and Kelvin Lawrence of Hayneville voted against the bill; Republicans Reed Ingram of Pike Road; Dimitri Polizos of Montgomery and Chris Sells of Greenville voted for it.

Under current law, those convicted of capital crimes can appeal the decision, then file a post-conviction appeal known as a Rule 32 measure that can challenge aspects of the conviction, such as the adequacy of counsel. The bill passed by the House, sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, would require both processes to move concurrently.

Supporters say it would “streamline” the appeals process and take years off the appellate process, sparing victims of crime going through it.

“If a defendant is found guilty, the court appoints two different appellate attorneys, so he’s got two different people working for him,” said Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, who carried the bill in the House.

Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall praised the passage in a statement.

“Each year that these appeals drag on, the general public is further removed from and even desensitized to the horrendous crimes that led to the sentences of every individual on death row,” the statement said. But, for the families of victims, the pain is not numbed with the passing of years.”

Opponents said by making the two processes concurrent, the state would make it more likely that an innocent person would be executed. Linda Klein, the president of the American Bar Association, sent a letter to House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston on May 12 urging them to oppose the bill.

“While the ABA respects the importance of finality and judicial efficiency, quicker resolution of cases where a life is at stake should not take priority over ensuring fundamental fairness and accuracy of those convictions,” the letter said.

Those arguments were echoed by Democrats speaking against the bill Tuesday afternoon. Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, said the Legislature was trying to “speed up the process of killing people” despite approving an amendment declaring Alabama a pro-life state during the session.

“This is Alabama,” Jackson said. “We understand we’re down in the South where we believe in killing people.”

The House accepted an amendment from Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa – who voted against the bill – to raise the cap on indigent defense from $1,500 to $7,500.

The bill goes back to the Senate for concurrence or conference committee.

Source: Montgomery Advertiser, Brian Lyman, May 16, 2017

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