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Bill calls for death penalty decisions to be made only by Alabama juries

Over the last few weeks, the majority of the discussion concerning capital punishment here in the U.S. has rightly focused on the state of Arkansas, which executed four inmates in just eight days.

Indeed, the coverage has been so comprehensive that a major development concerning capital punishment here in Alabama has been overlooked to a considerable degree.

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives voted 78-19 to pass a measure sponsored by Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) calling for the abolishment of the practice allowing judges to override jury recommendations in death penalty cases.

For those unfamiliar with the practice, Alabama is currently the only state in the nation -- following recent action by Delaware and Florida -- to enable a judge to discount a jury's recommendation that a defendant be given a life sentence and instead hand down a death sentence, and vice versa.

Statistics show that over the last 40 years, judges here in the Yellowhammer State have overridden jury recommendations 112 times, with judges imposing a death sentence in all but 11 of these cases.

The bill, which would not affect the 183 people currently on death row, would only apply in future cases, and ensure that juries, not judges, make the final decision regarding life in prison or a death sentence.

"It places the death penalty back in the proper perspective. It puts it ... where in my opinion the Constitution intends it to be: in the hands of juries," said England.

The legislation proved to be something of an anomaly given its widespread bipartisan support, as the companion bill in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R- Montgomery), passed by a 30-1 margin back in February.

As for the legislation's chances of passing, they would appear to be good. That's because former Governor Robert Bentley expressed an intention to sign it into law, while his replacement, Governor Kay Ivey, has not expressed any reservations with it.

Stay tuned for updates …

If you are facing manslaughter or murder charges, you must remember that more than your freedom may be at stake. As such, it's imperative to consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible.  

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