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Capital punishment in Alabama

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

Capital punishment in Alabama is a legal penalty. Alabama has the highest per capita capital sentencing rate in the United States. In some years, its courts impose more death sentences than Texas, a state that has a population five times as large.[1] However, Texas has a higher rate of executions both in absolute terms and per capita.[2]

Legal process[edit]

When the prosecution seeks the death penalty, the sentence is decided by the jury and at least 10 jurors must concur.

In case of a hung jury during the penalty phase of the trial, a retrial happens before another jury.[3]

In 2023, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that, when a condemned person appeals, the appellate court does not have to actively look for errors in the original judgment and only has to consider constitutional violations if the objection was already raised at trial. Previously, through 2022, appellate courts had been required to search for errors in the original judgment and to consider any constitutional violations that may have occurred at trial, regardless of whether the trial lawyer had objected.[4]

For cases prior to 2017, the sole determinant of the sentence was the sentencing judge who had the authority to override the jury's recommendation provided it was given appropriate weight.[5] Prospectively, from 2017, the judge must abide by the verdict of the jury. The law is not retroactive.

The power of clemency belongs to the Governor of Alabama.[6]

The method of execution is lethal injection, unless the condemned requests electrocution or nitrogen hypoxia. If the selected method (whether chosen by the offender or by default) is found unconstitutional, state statutes provide the use of "any constitutional method of execution", which would likely include hanging, the gas chamber or firing squad.[7]

In February 2023, following a review of failed lethal injections, Governor Kay Ivey said executions would resume.[8] The first occurred on July 21, 2023.[9]

Capital crimes[edit]

The following kinds of murder are punishable by death in Alabama:[10]

  1. Murder by the defendant during a kidnapping in the first degree or an attempt thereof committed by the defendant.
  2. Murder by the defendant during a robbery in the first degree. There is no attempted robbery in Alabama because it's a crime against the person and not the property. In most cases an attempted statue is Ala. Code § 13A-4-2 and decreases the crime one degree.
  3. Murder by the defendant during a rape in the first or second degree or an attempt thereof committed by the defendant; or murder by the defendant during sodomy in the first or second degree or an attempt thereof committed by the defendant.
  4. Murder by the defendant during a burglary in the first or second degree or an attempt thereof committed by the defendant.
  5. Murder of any police officer, sheriff, deputy, state trooper, federal law enforcement officer, or any other state or federal peace officer of any kind, or prison or jail guard, while such officer or guard is on duty, regardless of whether the defendant knew or should have known the victim was an officer or guard on duty, or because of some official or job-related act or performance of such officer or guard.
  6. Murder committed while the defendant is under sentence of life imprisonment.
  7. Murder done for a pecuniary or other valuable consideration or pursuant to a contract or for hire.
  8. Murder committed during sexual abuse in the first or second degree or an attempt thereof committed by the defendant.
  9. Murder committed during arson in the first or second degree committed by the defendant; or murder by the defendant by means of explosives or explosion.
  10. Murder wherein two or more persons are murdered by the defendant by one act or pursuant to one scheme or course of conduct.
  11. Murder committed when the victim is a state or federal public official or former public official and the murder stems from or is caused by or is related to his official position, act, or capacity.
  12. Murder committed during the act of unlawfully assuming control of any aircraft by use of threats or force with intent to obtain any valuable consideration for the release of said aircraft or any passenger or crewmen thereon or to direct the route or movement of said aircraft, or otherwise exert control over said aircraft.
  13. Murder committed by an offender convicted of any other murder in the 20 years preceding the crime which constitutes the capital crime under Alabama law at the time;
  14. Murder is related to the capacity or role of the victim as a witness.
  15. Murder of a victim less than 14 years of age.
  16. Murder committed by or through the use of a deadly weapon fired or otherwise used from outside a dwelling while the victim is in a dwelling.
  17. Murder committed by or through the use of a deadly weapon while the victim is in a vehicle.
  18. Murder committed by or through the use of a deadly weapon fired or otherwise used within or from a vehicle.
  19. Murder by the defendant where a court had issued a protective order for the victim against the defendant.


Between 1812 and 1965, 708 people were executed in Alabama. Until 1927, hanging was the primary method of execution, although one person was put to death by firing squad.

In addition to murder, capital crimes in Alabama formerly included rape, arson, and robbery.[11] According to the Alabama Department of Corrections, 31 persons were executed by the state for crimes other than murder - including rape, robbery and burglary - between 1927 and 1959.[12] In Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 (2008), the U.S. Supreme Court has essentially eliminated the death penalty for any crime at the state level except murder.

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. Alabama passed legislation reinstating use of the death penalty on March 25, 1976, when Alabama's legislature passed, and Governor George Wallace signed, a new death penalty statute. No execution under this law 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 with the addition of 200 single cells in the segregation unit.[13] The William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility has a male death row with a capacity of 24.[14] Donaldson's death row houses prisoners who need to stay in the Birmingham judicial district.[15] Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women houses the female death row.[16] All executions occur at Holman.[13]

In February 2018, Alabama carried out the botched attempted execution of Doyle Hamm.[17][18] During the execution attempt, executioners attempted for nearly three hours to insert an IV that could be used to administer the lethal injection drugs. In the process, the execution team punctured Hamm's bladder and femoral artery, causing significant bleeding.[17][19]

From 1983 to 14 June 2024, Alabama has executed 72 people.[12] As of June 2018, Alabama had 175 inmates on death row, the 4th highest number in the US.[20] A governor has commuted only one death sentence since 1976: outgoing Governor Fob James commuted Judith Ann Neelley's death sentence to life in prison in January 1999.[21]

In 2016, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tracie Todd ruled that the Alabama capital murder provision allowing judges to issue the death penalty by overriding jury recommendations for life without parole to be unconstitutional.[22] In 2020, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary charged Todd with an ethics complaint lodged by the Judicial Inquiry Commission,[23] which accused the Birmingham judge of using her position to oppose and override the state death penalty.[24] Todd was suspended without pay for 90 days and then permitted to return to her duties as a judge.[25]

On September 22, 2022, Alabama planned to execute Alan Eugene Miller but canceled the execution after failing to find a suitable vein.[26] On November 17, 2022, Alabama similarly was unable to execute Kenneth Eugene Smith because the state corrections staff were unable to find a suitable vein.[27] Following several botched executions, Governor Kay Ivey paused all executions[28] until July 2023.[9] Smith's execution was rescheduled and carried out on January 25, 2024; it was the nation's first use of nitrogen gas as an execution method.[29] Smith had requested this method.[30][31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza (2014-07-27). "With Judges Overriding Death Penalty Cases, Alabama Is An Outlier". NPR.org. Retrieved 2016-07-21.
  2. ^ "State Execution Rates (Through 2020)".
  3. ^ "SB 16 To amend Sections 13A-5-45, 13A-5-46, and 13A-5-47, Code of Alabama 1975, relating to capital cases and to the determination of the sentence by courts; to prohibit a court from overriding a jury verdict". legislature.state.al.us. Retrieved April 12, 2017.
  4. ^ Hrynkiw, Ivana (2023-01-18). "Alabama appellate courts don't have to spot 'plain errors' in death row cases". al. Retrieved 2023-01-20.
  5. ^ "Alabama ends death penalty by judicial override". Associated Press at WRBL. 2017-04-11. Retrieved 2017-04-13.
  6. ^ "SECTION 124 -Authority of governor to remit fines and forfeitures and grant reprieves, paroles, commutations of sentence and pardons; board of pardons; report by governor to legislature; pardons in cases of felonies and offenses involving moral turpitude". legislature.state.al.us. Retrieved November 19, 2021.
  7. ^ "Section 15-18-82.1 - Method of execution; election of execution by electrocution; constitutionality". legislature.state.al.us. Retrieved November 19, 2021.
  8. ^ Tucker, Emma; Razek, Raja (2023-02-25). "Alabama to resume executions after multiple failed injections prompted system review, governor says". CNN. Retrieved 2023-02-27.
  9. ^ a b Gattis, Paul (July 21, 2023). "Alabama Death Row inmate James Barber executed for 2001 Madison County murder". al.com. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  10. ^ Code of Alabama § 13A-5-49
  11. ^ "Executions in Alabama". Archived from the original on 2002-06-14. Retrieved 2016-07-21.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  12. ^ a b "Executions". Alabama Dept. of Corrections. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  13. ^ a b "Annual Report Fiscal Year 2003" (PDF). Alabama Department of Corrections. 33/84. Retrieved 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.
  14. ^ "Annual Report Fiscal Year 2003" (PDF). Alabama Department of Corrections. 21/84. Retrieved August 15, 2010. Donaldson has a death row unit with a capacity of 24 inmates.
  15. ^ "Facility Information". Archived from the original on 2010-03-18. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  16. ^ "Annual Report Fiscal Year 2003" (PDF). Alabama Department of Corrections. 45/84. Retrieved August 15, 2010. Tutwiler also has a death row
  17. ^ a b Segura, Liliana (2018-03-03). "Another Failed Execution: the Torture of Doyle Lee Hamm". The Intercept. Retrieved 2019-08-09.
  18. ^ Cohen, Roger (2018-02-27). "Opinion | Death Penalty Madness in Alabama". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-08-09.
  19. ^ "Lawyer describes aborted execution attempt for inmate as 'torture'". NBC News. 26 February 2018. Retrieved 2019-08-09.
  20. ^ "Facts About The Death Penalty" (PDF). Deathpenaltyinfo.org. Retrieved 2018-02-20.
  21. ^ "Clemency". Deathpenaltyinfo.org. Archived from the original on 2019-08-14. Retrieved 2011-07-18.
  22. ^ "JeffCo judge: Alabama death penalty sentence scheme unconstitutional" by Kent Faulk, Birmingham Real-Time News, March 9, 2019. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  23. ^ "Jefferson County Judge Tracie Todd presents defense in ethics trial" by Mike Cason, Birmingham Real-Time News, December 1, 2021. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  24. ^ "Ethics trial on hold for Birmingham judge who ruled Alabama death penalty law unconstitutional" by Mike Cason, Birmingham Real-Time News, November 16, 2021. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  25. ^ Jefferson County Judge Tracie Todd suspended without pay for ethics violations Mike Cason, al.com, December 3, 2021
  26. ^ Kim Bellware; Derek Hawkins (2022-09-23). "Execution halted at last minute when Ala. prison staff can't find vein". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. ISSN 0190-8286. OCLC 1330888409.
  27. ^ Urell, Aaryn (2022-11-18). "Second Man Survives Alabama Execution Attempt". Equal Justice Initiative. Retrieved 2022-11-26.
  28. ^ Associated Press (2022-11-21). "Alabama is pausing executions after a 3rd failed lethal injection". NPR. Retrieved 2022-11-22.
  29. ^ Bellware, Kim; Marimow, Ann E. (2024-01-25). "Alabama puts Kenneth Smith to death in first execution with nitrogen gas". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2024-01-25.
  30. ^ Tucker, Devon M. Sayers, Emma (2023-11-09). "Alabama sets date for first-ever US execution of death row inmate by nitrogen gas in 2024, governor says". CNN. Retrieved 2023-11-09.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  31. ^ "Alabama puts to death Kenneth Smith in first known execution using nitrogen gas". 25 January 2024.