Alabama Criminal Law Round-Up January 10th

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Here are a few of the criminal law stories that occurred around the state of Alabama this past week:

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Alabama Criminal Law Round-Up January 10th

Alabama Death-Row Inmates Ask for SCOTUS Review

Low wide angle view of the U.S. Supreme Court

Today, the US Supreme Court is considering three cert petitions involving important questions challenging the Alabama capital sentencing scheme. Two challenges involve the Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in Hurst v. Florida, which held that any fact necessary to expose a defendant to the death penalty must be found by a jury, not a judge.

Two cert petitions involve Tommy Arthur, a man who’s been on Alabama’s death row for 30 years. One petition is a Hurst-based challenge. In that petition, Arthur (1) makes a general challenge to Alabama’s scheme under Hurst; (2) argues Hurst requires a unanimous jury vote for death (his vote for death was 11-1); and (3) claims Hurst applies retroactively.

Arthur’s second petition raises Eighth Amendment claims against Alabama’s execution protocol.

The Court is also considering a cert petition from Jerry Bohannon. While I do not have a copy of Bohannon’s cert petition, I would imagine he is raising claims similar to those he presented to the Alabama Supreme Court in his case that was decided in September 2016. There, the Court rejected a number of Hurst claims, most notably Bohannon’s challenge that Hurst requires a jury to decide the weight of aggravating factors against mitigating factors.

In Alabama, a judge makes the final sentencing determination and must decide that the aggravating factors of a case outweigh the mitigating factors in order to sentence a defendant to death. Under Alabama law (which is grounded in pre-Aprendi/Ring SCOTUS decisions), the weighing of aggravators versus mitigators is purely a job for the judge, not the jury. A fairly clear and long line of cases has held that the Sixth Amendment does not require a jury to conduct this weighing. Hurst calls this thinking into question.

I’m bearish on either case’s chance. I think Arthur has a better shot on the Eighth Amendment issue than the Sixth Amendment issue, but I don’t think he’d have the votes to do anything. Bohannon’s weighing claim is somewhat blunted by the fact that the jury recommended death by a vote of 11-1, so whatever error he claims might be harmless. Moreover, I don’t believe he raised a claim that Hurst requires juror unanimity, which probably would have helped. The Court should wait on a better vehicle – an override case -to take that issue up.

However, should the Court take up Bohannon’s case on the weighing issue, I think there’s a good chance the Court would rule in Bohannon’s favor and hold that the Sixth Amendment requires a jury to determine the weight of aggravators versus mitigators. I think the votes are there. Ginsburg authored Ring, Sotomayor wrote a scathing dissent in the denial of cert in Woodward v. AL, a case that challenged override in the pre-Hurst era, Breyer believes the Eighth Amendment requires a jury to find everything (even if he doesn’t like Ring) and joined Sotomayor’s dissent in Woodward, and Kagan, Kennedy, Thomas and Roberts were in the majority in Hurst.

Even if the Court doesn’t take up one of these two cases, I believe the writing is on the wall that the Court will be forced to take a closer look at Alabama’s capital sentencing scheme either this term or next.

Alabama Death-Row Inmates Ask for SCOTUS Review

Alabama Criminal Law Round-Up December 30th

Here are a few of the criminal law stories that occurred around the state of Alabama this past week:

Alabama Criminal Law Round-Up December 30th

Alabama Criminal Law Round-Up December 20th

Here are a few of the criminal law stories that occurred around the state of Alabama this past week:

Alabama Criminal Law Round-Up December 20th

President-Elect Donald Trump, Criminal Justice Reform and Economic Growth

Justice signA blog I follow recently highlighted excerpts from an article on The Hill that called for President-Elect Donald Trump to reform the criminal justice system in an effort to foster economic growth.

The article cited a Department of Justice study that report that as of 2006, about 68 million Americans carried a major or minor criminal record. Another DOJ study reports that job applicants with a criminal record may be paid up to 50% less than those without criminal convictions. Additionally, many can only find employment in “off-the-book” jobs. The author of The Hill post, Eric Sterling, proposed the idea that if criminal records continued to affect the salaries and job opportunities of former inmates, the American economy is experiencing a loss of 1/3 of its consumers because of “underearning”. Having a criminal record also affects one’s ability to be extended credit. According to Sterling, the housing marketing and car industry would be positively impacted by criminal justice reforms, with an increase of half a million homes and half a million cars sold annually. He also hypothesized that if criminal records for nonviolent crimes (i.e. adult marijuana use and growth) were to be eliminated, up to 600,000 Americans would have better job and purchasing prospects.

Sterling’s message to Trump appeals first to his campaign promises of economic growth and job preservation. Then, in his conclusion, Sterling asks Trump to consider a criminal record elimination like a bankruptcy, erasing convictions after five to seven years of “verifiable” good behavior. Sterling makes the final argument that, since bankruptcy is in the Constitution, this approach to criminal justice reform could revamp the lives of former convicts and significantly impact the American economy. As Trump is no stranger to bankruptcy in his business practices, hopefully the “bankruptcy” argument rings true and persuasive with his administration.

President-Elect Donald Trump, Criminal Justice Reform and Economic Growth

Alabama Criminal Law Round-Up December 12th

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Here are a few of the criminal law stories that occurred around the state of Alabama this past week:

  • A “gun-wielding” version of the viral phenomenon, the Mannequin Challenge, recently led to the arrest of two North Alabama residents. The video, which has been shared over 86,000 times since being uploaded to Facebook in early November, shows several people in front of a neighborhood house and street posing with guns. After receiving a search warrant nearly a month after the video was posted, Madison County Police seized two handguns, an assault rifle and a shotgun along with several bags of marijuana and other drug paraphernalia. As of last Tuesday, two men, aged 49 and 23, were being held in the Madison County Jail in connection with the incident. Another male, 24, was taken into custody on a first degree charge of marijuana possession, but soon posted bail.
  • The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency announced the arrest of a 45-year-old Birmingham Schools employee on Friday. Charles Edward Walker Jr. faces drug trafficking charges after police seized 1,700 grams of heroin with fentanyl ($500,000 street value) and 90 grams of crack cocaine ($9,000 street value). Officers also confiscated a vehicle, a handgun and $55,000 in cash. The suspect posted bail and was released early Friday, but police report that the investigation is still ongoing.
  • Most businesses use social media for marketing and sales initiatives during the holiday season. The Pants Store in Crestline take a slightly different approach, specifically using Facebook and other platforms to “shame” shoplifters caught on camera. The most recent instance occurred during the store’s annual Holiday Open House on December 8th. A woman entered the store during the sale, and then proceeded to pick out a few items, try them on in the dressing room and walk out wearing a pair of $150 shoes, a pair of $160 pants and a purse full of other items. After discovering the theft, the owners posted an image from one of Pants Store’s 16 security cameras and asked for help in identifying the woman. As of Friday, they had a possible ID and are working with Mountain Brook police.
Alabama Criminal Law Round-Up December 12th

Alabama Criminal Law Round-Up December 5th

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Here are a few of the criminal law stories that occurred around the state of Alabama this past week:

Alabama Criminal Law Round-Up December 5th