- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The Alabama House of Representatives could vote this week on a bill to prohibit judges from imposing a death sentence when a jury has recommended life imprisonment.

Alabama is the last state to allow a judge to override a jury’s sentencing recommendation in capital murder cases. Rep. Chris England, the sponsor of the House bill, said he was growing optimistic that lawmakers will vote to “end that practice.”

“We will end judicial override in Alabama during this legislative session,” England, D-Tuscaloosa, told a rally of Alabama Arise, an advocacy group for low-income families. Alabama Arise had named ending judicial override one of its legislative priorities for 2017.

The Alabama Senate last week approved the bill by on a 30-1 vote that surprised the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Dick Brewbaker of Pike Road, with its lopsided margin The proposal now faces a key House vote that could come Thursday.

Since 1976, Alabama judges have overridden jury recommendations 112 times, according to the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative. In 101 of those cases, the judges gave a death sentence. The bill would also prevent judges from giving a life sentence if a jury recommended a death sentence.

The legislation would only affect future death sentences, not inmates currently on Alabama’s death row.

Kimble Forrister, state coordinator for Alabama Arise, said the bill will return the responsibility to juries.

“We trust juries. We trust the jury of our peers,” Forrister said.

There are differences in the House and Senate bills.

Brewbaker’s bill would not require jurors to unanimously vote for death. They could issue a death sentence with the agreement of 10 of 12 jurors. The House bill would require unanimous agreement of jurors for a death sentence. It is expected that some lawmakers will try to strip that requirement on the House floor.

If the bill gets through the House, England said he and Brewbaker will decided how to proceed based on what changes lawmakers make to it. Both chambers must pass one version of the bill in order to send it to Gov. Robert Bentley.

The sole state senator that voted against the bill said he believed judges had the information and experience to choose the correct sentence.

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