Alabama Judges Supreme on Life or Death


The Supreme Court has tacitly approved a practice in Alabama that gives judges the authority to override jury decisions on the death penalty.  The Court turned away a case in which a trial judge had overturned the jury’s sentence of life without parole; he changed the sentence to death.

Judges have that authority under Alabama law, and the Supreme Court affirmed it.  There is a political component that Justice Sonia Sotomayor found disturbing: judges in law-and-order Alabama are elected, and are sensitive to the political winds.  Given choices of life or death, judges have chosen death by a margin of more than 10 to 1.  (95 changes of a life sentence to death; nine overrides of a death sentence to life.)

Sotomayor found only one explanation: “Alabama judges, who are elected in partisan proceedings, appear to have succumbed to electoral pressures.”

The Court refused to hear the Alabama appeal.  Sotomayor’s comments came in unusual public dissent of the turndown.

(More from an excellent Adam Liptak piece:

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