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Alabama Capital Punishment Laws


Alabama, along with 31 other states, permits the death penalty. Like in many states, a person who has committed a capital murder in Alabama can be sentenced to life imprisonment instead of the death penalty. These trials are split into two parts. First, there's a trial where guilt or innocence is determined. If the defendant is convicted of capital murder, then a sentencing trial takes place where the jury or judge hears the mitigating and aggravating circumstances. Mitigating circumstances tend to lessen the degree of criminal responsibility, while aggravating circumstances increase it due to the factors’ malicious nature. Both of these factors are described below.

The following table explains more on capital punishment laws in Alabama.

Code Section Alabama Code Title 13A: Criminal Code, Chapter 5: Punishments & Sentences, Title 2: Death Penalty & Life Imprisonment Without Parole
Is Capital Punishment Allowed? Yes. Not only is the death penalty permitted, but judges can override jury recommendations of a life imprisonment sentence. In more than 90% of the 95 jury overrides since 1982, the judge imposed death when the jury chose life.
Minimum Age Although Alabama law doesn’t state a minimum age for the death penalty, in 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of those who were juveniles when the crime occurred. At the time of this decision, Alabama death row had 13 inmates who were 16 or 17 when the crime occurred.
Available for Crimes Other Than Homicide? No. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that permitted the death penalty for the rape of a child. The death penalty in the U.S. is essentially exclusively used for murder.
Definition of Capital Homicide Capital offenses in Alabama include all of these types of homicides or deaths:
  • Committed by the defendant during a hijacking, kidnapping, robbery, burglary, arson, rape, sodomy, or sexual abuse
  • Committed using explosives, during a drive-by shooting, or while the victim was inside a vehicle or home
  • Committed in the presence of a child under 14 years old when the victim was the parent or legal guardian of the child
  • When the victim is under 14 years old
  • Where two or more people are murdered
  • Where the victim was a law enforcement officer, prison guard, or first responder while on duty or related to his or her official capacities
  • When the victim is, was, or would have been a witness to any criminal or civil proceeding in any court and relates to his or her role as a witness
  • While under a life imprisonment sentence or if previously convicted in the past 20 years of another murder
  • Done for money (assassination)
Method of Execution Lethal injection is the primary method of execution, however, electrocution is still an option.
Mitigating Circumstances Defense counsel in Alabama can provide any of the following mitigating information during the sentencing portion of a death penalty case to hopefully outweigh the aggravating circumstances:
  • The defendant
    • Has no significant history of prior criminal activity
    • Was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance (but not insane) at the time of the crime
    • Substantially lacked the capacity to appreciate the criminality of his or her conduct or conform his or her conduct to the requirements of law
    • Was only an accomplice to the capital offense committed by another and his or her participating was minor
    • Acted under extreme duress or under the substantial control of another person
    • The age of the defendant (although again, the person must be at least 18 at the time of the crime to be eligible for the death penalty)
  • The victim participated or consent to the defendant’s conduct
  • Anything else about the defendant’s character, record, or anything else relevant for sentencing to life instead of death
Aggravating Circumstances The prosecutor would show the aggravating factors, if any, connected to the capital murder case:

  • The murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel or part of intentional serial killings, or committed in the presence of a child under 14 years old when the victim was the parent or legal guardian of the child
  • The victim
    • Was a law enforcement officer, prison guard, or first responder while on duty or related to his or her official capacities
    • Was a child under 14 years old
  • The defendant
    • Was imprisoned
    • Was previously convicted of a capital offense or violent felony
    • Knowingly created a great risk of death to many persons
    • Committed murder while committing, attempting, or fleeing a rape, robbery, burglary, or kidnapping
    • Committed murder to avoid being lawfully arrested or while escaping lawful custody
    • Murdered for money or other gain (such as insurance proceeds)
    • Committed the crime to hinder the lawful exercise of any government function or enforcement of laws
    • Intentionally caused the death of two or more people in one act or scheme

Note: State laws change frequently, it’s best to verify any laws you’re researching by conducting your own research or contacting an experienced Alabama criminal defense attorney.

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