Sunday, 25 March 2007

A vote that should count

March 25, 2007


A vote that should count

The Birmingham News, opinion

THE ISSUE: A House committee approved a bill to take away judges' power to
impose a death sentence when a jury recommends life. The full House and
Senate need to follow suit.

One of the most frightening features of Alabama's death penalty laws is that
elected judges have the power to impose the ultimate punishment even when a
jury concludes otherwise.

If a jury unanimously recommends mercy - and in the case of capital crimes,
that means a life prison sentence with no chance, ever, for parole - a judge
can disregard jurors' wishes and sentence a defendant to death.

That is wrong whether you support capital punishment or not.

The wrong would be righted under a measure approved this past Wednesday by
the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee. The bill, sponsored by
state Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, passed on a voice vote.

Now, the full House needs to consider and approve this bill, as does the
Senate, where an identical bill has been introduced by state Sen. Hank
Sanders, D-Selma.

The Birmingham News editorial board would like to see the death penalty
abolished; it is carried out in an arbitrary, unfair way, and it conflicts
with our core, pro-life beliefs.

But as long as death sentences can be imposed and carried out in Alabama,
lawmakers must take steps to address the worst provisions regarding their
application. Allowing judges to ignore jury recommendations regarding life
and death is among the worst of the worst provisions.

Judges in Alabama face too much political pressure to have the power of life
and death in these cases. While we're confident most judges strive to keep
politics out of their decisions, the bottom line is that they are subject to
the ballot just like legislators and town council members.

We would think judges would be relieved to have life-and-death decisions
left in the hands of regular people who, whatever their shortcomings, don't
have to worry about an upcoming election.

Keep in mind, too, that the jurors who hear capital cases are not soft on
crime. They must support the death penalty and be willing, in theory, to
inflict it. To reach the sentencing phase, they have already found a person
guilty of a terrible crime.

When they say a death sentence isn't appropriate, that conclusion should
count for something. The Legislature should make sure it does.


Source : The Birmingham News


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