Alabama judges have the unusual power to void jury verdicts and sentence people to death.The state is just one of three that allow judges to override juries in this way, and judges there wield their power to order executions at an alarming rate, Fox10TV reported on Thursday.
Just two Mobile County judges sent 11 men to death row by overruling jury recommendations, legal nonprofit The Equal Justice Initiative revealed in a report last year.
“Most of the time, the jury imposes the same sentence that the jury returns, but there are a striking number of cases where judges override jury verdicts and impose death sentences,” Equal Justice Initiative Director Bryan Stevenson told Fox10TV.
While Florida and Delaware also let judges overrule jury recommendations on the death penalty, those states are stricter about policing that power, Stevenson told the TV station.
Juries typically only impose verdicts, not sentences. But the Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that juries, not judges, must determine whether there are aggravating factors that warrant the death penalty.
Bryan said the constitutionality of allowing judges to override these rulings is “very much in question.”
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