Capital punishment in Alabama

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Julia Tutwiler Prison houses the state's female death row inmates.

Capital punishment is legal in Alabama, as it is in most U.S. states. Capital punishment dates back to 1812, when present-day Alabama was still part of the Mississippi Territory.

Alabama has the highest per capita death penalty rate in the country. In some years, it imposes more death sentences than Texas, a state with a population five times as large.[1] Intentional murder with any of 18 aggravating factors can be charged as capital murder.

Alabama is the only state in which judges routinely override the jury's decision not to impose the death penalty.[1] Delaware and Florida also allow for judge override,[2] however it has only been applied reversing the death penalty, not imposing it.[3]

This practice is no longer constitutionally permissible since the United States Supreme Court expressly prohibited it in Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002), but nearly 100 have been sentenced to death in Alabama since 1976 as a result of a judicial sentencing override.[2] Executions are carried out at the Holman Correctional Facility, near Atmore, Alabama.

Fifty-one people have been executed by the state of Alabama since 1983 (24 by electrocution and 27 by lethal injection).[4] As of 2014, Alabama has 197 inmates on death row, the 4th highest number in the US.[5] As in any other state, people who are under 18 at the time of commission of the capital crime[6] or are mentally retarded[7] are nationally exempt from execution. The Governor of Alabama has the authority to grant a commutation of sentence in capital (as well as non-capital) cases.[8] There has been only one commutation of a death sentence since 1976: Judith Ann Neelley's death sentence was commuted to life in prison by outgoing Governor Fob James in January 1999.[8]


Between 1812 and 1965, 708 people were executed in Alabama; 18 were women. Until 1927, hanging was the primary method of execution, although one person was shot.

In addition to murder, capital crimes in Alabama formerly included rape, arson, and robbery.[9] According to the Alabama Department of Corrections, 31 people were executed by the state for crimes other than murder - including rape, robbery and burglary - between 1927 and 1959; 29 of them were black.[9] The U.S. Supreme Court has essentially eliminated the death penalty for any crime at the state level except murder in Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 (2008).

The 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case Furman v. Georgia, requiring a degree of consistency in the application of the death penalty, established a de facto moratorium on capital punishment across the United States. That moratorium remained until July 2, 1976, when Gregg v. Georgia decided how states could impose death sentences without violating the Eighth Amendment's ban against cruel and unusual punishment. The death penalty in Alabama was reinstated on March 25, 1976, when Alabama's legislature passed, and Governor George Wallace signed, a new death penalty statute. No execution was carried out until 1983.

Holman Correctional Facility has a male death row that originally had a capacity of 20, but was expanded in the summer of 2000.[10] The William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility has a male death row with a capacity of 24.[11] Donaldson's death row houses prisoners who need to stay in the Birmingham judicial district.[12] Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women houses the female death row.[13] All executions occur at Holman.[10]


From 1927 until 2002, electrocution was the only method of execution in Alabama. In July 2002, lethal injection became the default method, although electrocution can still be used at the request of the prisoner.[14][15] Since the introduction of lethal injection, every inmate has chosen it over the electric chair. The last inmate executed involuntarily in the chair in Alabama was Lynda Lyon Block.


Alabama's death penalty system is criticized for ineffective legal support for inmates facing death sentences, and some cases are highly controversial[16] with one being overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.[17] Brian K. Baldwin was executed in 1999 despite what some deemed insufficient evidence of his guilt.

There are also controversies surrounding judicial override of life in prison sentences with the death penalty. Alabama is the only state where this happens. Delaware and Florida also allow judge discretion but have only used it in the opposite direction (death penalty to life imprisonment). In Alabama a jury needs a 10-2 vote to recommend a life or death sentence. In 10 cases a 12-0 recommendation for a life without parole sentence was over-ridden by a judge issuing the death sentence.[18]

Other controversial cases include those of Freddie Lee Wright and Cornelius Singleton.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b "Worse than Texas". Democracy in America (blog). The Economist. July 14, 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-18. 
  3. ^ "Crimes Punishable by the Death Penalty". Retrieved 2011-07-18. 
  4. ^ "Inmates Executed in Alabama". Retrieved 2011-07-18. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)
  7. ^ Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002)
  8. ^ a b "Clemency". Retrieved 2011-07-18. 
  9. ^ a b Alabama Executions, 1812-1965.
  10. ^ a b "Annual Report Fiscal Year 2003." Alabama Department of Corrections. 33/84. Retrieved on August 15, 2010. "which also included a cellblock for 20 death row inmates." and "The death chamber is located at Holman where all executions are conducted." and "A major addition was completed in the summer of 2000 to add 200 single cells to the segregation unit. This addition was required to keep up with the increasing number of inmates on Death Row which had grown to more than 150."
  11. ^ "Annual Report Fiscal Year 2003." Alabama Department of Corrections. 21/84. Retrieved on August 15, 2010. "Donaldson has a death row unit with a capacity of 24 inmates."
  12. ^ "Donaldson Correctional Facility." Alabama Department of Corrections. Retrieved on October 8, 2010.
  13. ^ "Annual Report Fiscal Year 2003." Alabama Department of Corrections. 45/84. Retrieved on August 15, 2010. "Tutwiler also has a death row,"
  14. ^ AL death methods- Retrieved 2012-03-18
  15. ^ "Methods of Execution". Retrieved 2011-07-18. 
  16. ^ Equal Justice Initiative- Retrieved 2012-03-18
  17. ^ Retrieved 2012-03-18
  18. ^ Retrieved 2012-03-18
  19. ^ Farrell, John Aloysius. (October 25, 2000). "Group says 16 executed in U.S. were probably innocent", THe Boston Globe.