Strange: Death penalty top priority
Attorney General Luther Strange is seeking to accelerate the pace of death penalty appeals in Alabama, noting decades can go by before inmates see the execution chamber.
Strange said a bill to streamline the death penalty appeals process will be a top priority for him in the upcoming legislative session.
“It shouldn’t take decades through the appeals process to get justice for families,” Strange said in an interview.
Currently, Covington County has two inmates on death row – Oscar Roy Doster and Bobby O’Lee Phillips. The men were sentenced to death in the shooting death of Gantt resident Paul LeMaster after the two escaped from the Covington County Jail in 2002.
The attorney general said death penalty appeals in Alabama currently “seem endless with excessive delays that serve only to prolong pain and postpone justice for the victims of these heinous crimes.”
Strange announced his legislative agenda Wednesday in a series of press conferences around the state.
He is also backing proposals that would make it a capital offense to kill someone at a school or day care and also to give state law enforcement the power to do wiretaps during murder, drug and other certain investigations.
Currently, a person given the death penalty has a series of direct appeals, first to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, and then to the Alabama Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court. After those are complete, the defendant can begin Rule 32 appeals, post-conviction appeals that look at other issues such as the trial lawyer’s competence.
The proposed legislation, dubbed The Fair Justice Act, would run both sets of appeals simultaneously. Capital defendants would be required to file Rule 32 petitions within 180 days of filing their first direct appeal.
Strange said the proposal is similar to what Texas and Virginia have done.
The average stay on the state’s death row has been nearly 16 years since the U.S reinstated the death penalty. However, the time between sentencing and execution is expected to increase since the inmates currently on death row have already been there an average of 13 years.
The legislation is backed by district attorneys across the state, and Strange said the expedited process would not infringe on defendants’ rights.
“You get the same level of appeals, but you do them on a dual track,” Strange said. The defendant would still have a round of federal appeals, he said.
But the proposal is expected to draw opposition from death penalty opponents and others who say it will get quicker executions but not necessarily better justice.
The 2014 legislative session begins as Strange is seeking a second term as attorney general. The session begins Jan. 14.