The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday refused [order list, PDF] to consider a challenge to Alabama’s death penalty system. Alabama is the only state that allows judges to overrule juries and impose death sentences [USA Today report]. This comes a year after the justices struck down [JURIST report] a similar practice in Florida. A study by an Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative found that roughly 21 percent of the 199 people on Alabama’s death row were sentenced through judicial overrides. In November the court issued an order granting a stay of execution [JURIST report] for an Alabama inmate over concerns of the judicial override. Chief Justice Roberts provided the deciding vote, stating that he granted the stay as a courtesy until the issue could be discussed among the court.
Capital punishment [JURIST op-ed] remains a controversial issue in the US and worldwide. In November the legal status of the death penalty was upheld [JURIST report] by state referendum in Oklahoma, Nebraska and California. In September executions in Oklahoma were put on a two-year hiatus so Oklahoma can reevaluate its lethal injection procedures [JURIST report] following a botched execution and several drug mix-ups in the past two years. In May the US Supreme Court upheld a stay [JURIST report] of execution for Alabama inmate Vernon Madison. A few days before that a Miami judge ruled [JURIST report] that Florida’s revamped death penalty law is unconstitutional because it does not require a unanimous agreement among jurors to approve executions. In April Virginia’s General Assembly voted [JURIST report] to keep secret the identities of suppliers of lethal injection drugs.