Review of errors in death penalty cases restricted by Alabama Supreme Court

The Alabama Supreme Court last week overturned a longstanding Alabama statute that requires appellate courts to review “clear error” in death penalty cases. Pressure groups sharply criticized the verdict, fearing it could lead to the execution of those wrongly convicted.

Rule 45A of the Alabama Rules of Appellate Procedure previously mandated appellate courts to review possible violations of the constitutional rights of prisoners sentenced to death, even if those shortcomings have not been challenged or appealed to the court.

The new High Court order removes the mandatory plain error review procedure with immediate effect. The court was split 6-3, with Justices Greg Shaw, Kelli Wise and Tommy Bryan dissenting.

The Equal Justice Initiative wrote that mandatory plain error review was responsible for nearly 40% of all reversals in Alabama’s death penalty cases.