Death Penalty Judicial Override Criticized

U. S. Supreme Court Dissent Critical Of Alabama Death Penalty Judicial Override

In a November 18, 2013 dissent to the denial of certiorari, Justice Sonia Sotomayor was highly critical of Alabama’s death penalty judicial override.  In the case of  Mario Dion Woodward v. Alabama, the United States Supreme Court declined to review a death penalty sentence that was the product of a judge overriding the jury’s recommendation for life without parole.  Justice Sotomayor wrote an eloquent and pointed dissent noting a number of alarming facts relative to Alabama’s judicial override statute, including the fact that while  95 defendants have been sentenced to death after a jury verdict of life imprisonment since Alabama adopted the judicial override statute, judges have overridden death sentence verdicts by juries only 9 times.  Additionally, t

he judicial overrides at times were exercised even when the jury recommended life imprisonment with votes of 12 to 0, 11-1 and 10-2.


thirty two states have capital punishment.  Thirty one require jury participation in the sentencing decision, and twenty seven give the jury final say as to whether the death penalty is imposed.  Justice Sotomayor also gave one proposed explanation as to why so many death penalty cases in Alabama end in a judicial override:

“The only answer that is supported by empirical evidence is one that, in my view, casts a cloud of illegitimacy over the criminal justice system: Alabama judges, who are elected in partisan proceedings, appear to have succumbed to electoral pressures.”

See Complete Dissent Here

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