Legislation changes how AL deals with death row cases

Updated: May. 25, 2017 at 6:18 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The death penalty will remain in Alabama for the foreseeable future, but the 2017 legislative session saw changes to exactly how the state deals with death row cases.

"Well, in America we have this notion of justice," Frank Knaack, Executive Director of Alabama Appleseed, said. "Justice is equality, equal access to justice, and right now in Alabama's death penalty cases litigation, there is not justice."

According to Alabama Appleseed, eight people since the 1970s have been sent to death row only to learn the state got the wrong person.

"We can all agree or disagree on whether or not we want to have the death penalty, but I can think of something we can all agree on is that if we have a death penalty the process should be reliable," Knaack said.

Lawmakers passed two pieces of legislation in the 2017 session that deal with death row cases. First, lawmakers passed the "Judicial Override Bill" which ended the practice of allowing a judge the ability to sentence someone to death over the recommendation of the jury. Many advocates praised the move as a step forward for the state.

Second, lawmakers passed the "Fair Justice Act" which shortens the appeal process for death row inmates. Proponents said the bill prevents cases from dragging out. However, opponents believe it may lead to innocent people being sent to death row.

Alabama was scheduled to put convicted murderer Tommy Arthur to death Thursday, but the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay, his eighth. In Arthur's case, he's been fighting execution for decades.

Lawmakers considered legislation that would have provided another alternative to lethal injection but the bill did not pass.

"I think we should really work to ensure that process is reliable and all the things we are advocating for is just making sure we have a reliable process and ensuring if someone is convicted, and they are executed, that we at least got the right person," Knaack said.

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