Appellate court upholds death penalty sentencing scheme

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – An appellate court has overturned a trial judge who ruled Alabama’s death penalty sentencing structure is unconstitutional.

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals on Friday ruled that the state’s sentencing scheme is legal.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tracie Todd in March had ruled the structure unconstitutional because judges can override a jury’s recommendation of life in prison. She questioned what she called a “life-to-death override epidemic” and the role of elected judges in imposing the death penalty.

Todd cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down Florida’s death penalty sentencing structure.

Appellate judges said that Alabama is different from Florida because juries must find at least one aggravating circumstance exists before a defendant can be eligible for the death penalty. They said that makes the sentencing mechanism constitutional.

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