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Alabama Legislative Committee Rejects Bill to Replace Death Penalty with Life Sentences

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The proposal to grant new sentences to approximately 30 inmates in Alabama who received the death penalty despite a jury’s suggestion of life imprisonment was rejected by state lawmakers on Wednesday.

In a 9-4 vote, the House Judiciary Committee turned down the bill that aimed to replace the death sentences with life without parole for individuals on death row. These inmates were originally sentenced under a now-defunct system that permitted judges to disregard a jury’s recommendation in capital punishment cases.

Alabama ceased the practice of judicial override, where judges could overturn a jury’s sentencing decision in death penalty cases, in 2017, making it the final state to do so. However, this change did not apply retroactively, leaving around 33 individuals on death row in Alabama who were subjected to judicial override, as highlighted by England.

State Representative Chris England, the bill’s proponent, emphasized the need to reconsider the sentences of those impacted by judicial override, stating, “The only right thing to do, in my opinion, is to afford everybody who was sentenced by judicial override the opportunity to be resentenced.”

The bill faced opposition along party lines, with nine Republicans opposing it and four Democrats supporting it. Critics of the proposal argued against retroactively altering the sentences of inmates who were sentenced in accordance with the law at the time of their trials.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Hill, a former judge, expressed his reluctance to challenge the decisions made by judges who utilized judicial override, citing the discretion granted by the law at that time. Despite the setback, England, who has been advocating for this change since 2017, plans to reintroduce the bill in 2025.

In a show of support for the legislation, activists staged a rally outside the Alabama Statehouse last month.