Alabama's recent change to its death penalty laws is indeed a step in the right direction for the state as a whole.
On April 11, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill into law which makes judges unable to override the decision of a jury regarding the death penalty in capital murder cases, reports AL.com. The bill was passed by the Alabama House of Representatives on April 4.
There are several reasons why this recent change should be seen as something heavily positive. First of all, it has modified Alabama's laws to be more in line with the rest of the country. Before April 11, Alabama was the only state that allowed judicial override to occur.
In addition, the policy of judicial override was not achieving its original purpose. According to AL.com, judicial override was initially put into practice with a noble intention: to prevent the death penalty from being imposed unjustly upon citizens. However, this is not how it has worked in practice.
"Judicial override has been responsible for some of the [most unfair] and most unreliable death sentences in the United States," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Washington, D.C.,-based Death Penalty Information Center, according to Al.com.
"It has been used to impose death sentences against the will of the community and has been disproportionately used in election years in cases of white victims and African American defendants," he continued.
Dunham's assertion is indeed correct and helps to highlight why the Alabama government's decision to end judicial override is so important.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union's website, capital punishment sentencing is often dependent on arbitrary factors such as "how much money they have, the skill of their attorneys, race of the victim and where the crime took place." In addition, the website also states that people of color "are far more likely to be executed than white people, especially if the victim is white." By choosing to end judicial override, Alabama has taken a step toward correcting these injustices.
While Alabama's decision to end judicial override has put the state on the right track, there is still work to be done.
For example, the new law cannot be retroactively applied to those who have already been sentenced to receive the death penalty. This means that if someone has been wrongfully sentenced to death in the state as a result of judicial override, it is likely they will still be executed.
The execution of innocent individuals on death row is indeed a problem in the United States. For example, in 2014, Newsweek reported that a study had found that 4.1 percent of those sentenced to death within the United States are innocent. While this number might at first seem small, it is important to remember that it concerns human lives; even if one person were wrongfully executed, it would be a tragedy. Therefore, Alabama should try to find a way to overturn the sentences of those whose fates were changed by judicial override.
Overall, Alabama's change in law is a good thing. While there is still work to be done to ensure that those who have fallen victim to the act of judicial override receive justice, we should not forget that major steps have already been taken with the signing of this new bill into law.