SB 187 would set a 365‐day time limit to file a Rule 32 petition challenging an individual’s capital conviction and require this time to run concurrently with the direct appeal. It would also set other deadlines, requiring judges to rule within a specific time periods.
It misses the underlying problem – Alabama’s capital punishment system doesn’t ensure fairness or accuracy. An estimated 1 in every 25 people on death row in the U.S. is innocent, and Alabama is not immune from the potential to execute an innocent person. In fact, in the modern death penalty era, Alabama has convicted and sentenced to death eight people who were later exonerated and freed from death row. Despite Alabama’s high number of exonerations, SB 187 would make it more difficult for a person to prove their innocence. Regardless of where each of us stand on the death penalty, we should all oppose legislation, like SB 187, that increases Alabama’s risk of executing an innocent person.
It will move Alabama further away from American Bar Association recommendations. In 2006 the American Bar Association published a report that found problems throughout Alabama’s death penalty process – from interactions with law enforcement at the beginning to the post-conviction process at the end. In fact, the concerns were so serious that the ABA report recommended a temporary moratorium on executions until the recommendations were implemented. Over ten years later, the vast majority of those recommendations have still not been implemented, including the need to ensure that “all poor defendants receive competent counsel at every stage of the capital process.” Despite the ABA’s report documenting concerns around ineffective assistance of counsel for people on death row, SB 187 would eliminate the ability for state court judges to hear some of these claims. SB 187 would move Alabama in the wrong direction.
It does not ensure effective assistance of counsel. While SB 187 includes a provision that would finally provide appointed counsel for indigent individuals during the post-conviction review stage, the bill fails to ensure that appointed counsel would have the qualifications necessary to provide effective representation. Instead, it makes vagues suggestions that the Alabama Supreme Court and the Alabama Bar should consider when creating a list of “qualified counsel.” Capital litigation involves unique and complex issues, and thus requires counsel who have this specialized training and experience. By failing to ensure access to qualified counsel at the post-conviction stage, SB 187 would merely compound issues caused by ineffective assistance of counsel during the trial and appeal stages. In the end, indigent individuals would continue to face execution without qualified counsel.
SB 187 increases the likelihood that Alabama will execute an innocent person.