By Associated Press - Thursday, March 10, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama’s attorney general is looking to invalidate a judge’s order that challenged the constitutionality of the state’s death penalty sentencing system.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said in a petition to the state appeals court that Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Tracie Todd doesn’t have the authority to prevent the state from seeking the death penalty against defendants who are charged with capital murder.

Todd issued an order March 3, saying a system allowing judges to impose the death penalty over a jury’s suggestion for life in prison without parole is unconstitutional.

“Although recent legal developments may call into question the imposition of the death penalty under certain circumstances, the trial court’s order is indefensible,” Strange said in a statement.

Juries recommend sentences in Alabama death penalty cases, but judges have the final say in a mechanism known as judicial override. The method is used to impose the death penalty if a jury recommends life without parole.



Todd blocked the death penalty from being used against four men charged in three slayings after defense attorneys cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared a similar sentencing system in Florida unconstitutional.

Prosecutors have argued that Alabama’s sentencing system is different from Florida’s in key aspects and is constitutional. Florida lawmakers have revamped the state’s death penalty sentencing mechanism since the Supreme Court Ruling.

In Todd’s order, she alleged a connection between the state’s partisan judicial elections and the use of judicial override to impose the death penalty to put forth a “tough on crime” persona during election years.

Strange said Todd’s order was riddled with errors and that Alabama’s judicial elections have nothing to do with the way judges impose the death penalty.

The Alabama Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Courts have both found the state’s sentencing mechanism to be constitutional as long as juries find aggravating factors in the guilt or penalty phase of a trial, he said.

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