MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Alabama’s highest court has changed its rules to limit reviews of plain errors in death penalty cases over the dissent of three members.
The court on Thursday ordered multiple rule changes, including regarding death penalty appeals. The rule change would limit reviews of death penalty cases even when there are “plain errors.”
Six justices — Parker, Bolin, Sellers, Mitchell, Mendheim, and Stewart — agreed to the changes, and three justices — Shaw, Wise, and Bryan — dissented.
“I have personally conducted many plain-error reviews of records in death-penalty cases,” Justice Greg Shaw wrote in part. “In my view, a thorough plain-error review of a death-penalty case on direct appeal serves the interests of both the State and the defendant. Mandatory plain-error review under Rule 45A has existed for 44 years; I see no need for its unsolicited demise.”
Justice Kelli Wise wrote that death penalty cases are entitled to additional scrutiny because of the implications of denying such an appeal without careful consideration.
“I understand that plain-error review on direct appeal places a burden on the Court of Criminal Appeals and requires the use of judicial resources,” she wrote. “However, in these cases, the defendants’ very lives are at stake, and I believe that such cases are entitled to heightened review on direct appeal.”
Alison Mollman, senior legal counsel for the Alabama ACLU, said that that court’s decision strips Alabamians of their constitutional rights.
“The Alabama Supreme Court’s appellate rule change is unnecessary, dangerous, and will lead to wrongfully convicted people being executed,” Mollman said.
In another, unanimous rule change, the court gave Alabama’s governor the power to set the specific timeframe for executions, a decision that those on death row say may lead to “unending torture.”
The changes to court rules around executions and the death penalty come as the state begins a so-called “top-to-bottom” review of the execution process following three botched executions, only one of which led to the death of the individual condemned.