The Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear one or both of the cases — Scott v. Alabama, No. 14-8189, and Lockhart v. Alabama, No. 14-8194 — and to take a new look at the unusual power Alabama gives to its judges.
The court has lately been interested in other aspects of capital sentencing, agreeing on Monday to consider a challenge to Florida’s system in Hurst v. Florida, No. 14-7505.
Alabama is one of three with laws on the books allowing judges to reject juries’ sentencing recommendations in capital cases. In the past decade, it has been alone in sending defendants to death row after juries determined that the just sentence was life in prison.
Alabama law allows judges to override jury recommendations in either direction: from life to death or from death to life. But Alabama judges mostly choose death.
Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, judges in Alabama have overridden recommendations of life 101 times and of death just 10 times.