Lawmakers vote down bill that would allow some Alabama death row inmates to be resentenced

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a bill that would provide new sentences for about 30 inmates who were given the death penalty despite a jury's recommendation of life imprisonment.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 9-4 against the bill that would give life without parole sentences to the death row inmates who were placed there under a now-abolished system that allowed judges to override a jury’s recommendation in death penalty cases.

Alabama in 2017 became the last state to end the practice of allowing judges to override a jury’s sentence recommendation in death penalty case, but the change was not retroactive. There are about 33 people on Alabama’s death row who were sentenced by judicial override, England said.

“We all decided that judicial override was wrong, and we repealed that section. The only right thing to do, in my opinion, is to afford everybody who was sentenced by judicial override the opportunity to be resentenced,” state Rep. Chris England, the sponsor of the bill, told the committee.

The bill was rejected on a party-line vote, with nine Republicans voting against it, and the four Democrats voting for it.

Opponents argued that the inmates were sentenced under state law at the time of their trial and opposed a retroactive change.

“The law that was in effect at the time allowed judicial override. These judges, in their discretion, overrode. Consequently, it's very difficult for me to second guess or in effect override that,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Hill said.

Hill, a former judge, said he had a practice of following the jury’s recommendation in death penalty cases, but that the law at the time allowed judicial discretion.

England, who has introduced the bill since 2017, said he will try again in 2025. Activists held a rally last month outside the Alabama Statehouse in support of the legislation.