HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Attorney General Luther Strange made a visit to the Tennessee Valley on Wednesday to announce a series of criminal justice reforms he will be supporting in the upcoming legislative session.
The bills aim to streamline the appeals process as well as increase penalties for certain crimes.
Strange introduced four bills, two of which comprised the Fair Justice Act.
The first bill would change parts of Alabama’s death penalty law, by expediting the appeals process.
Currently the appeals process is linear, first defendants go through the Direct Appeals process, where they can seek to overturn the conviction and death sentence. Afterward, the defendant can file a Rule 32 petition for post-conviction relief to challenge the conviction.
Under the Fair Justice Act, the two appeals processes would happen parallel to one another, shortening the amount of time it takes to go through the process.
“It’s more just,” said Strange. “We’re not waiting 15 or 20 years to come back in, when witnesses are gone and lawyers are long retired. [This way] we get a chance to get to the issues while the facts are fresh, and that’s good for everyone.”
Strange says the changes would not infringe on the defendant’s rights, and they would still be able to pursue a federal appeal.
Still, supporters of the bill expect push back from opponents of the death penalty, as well as members of the Trial Lawyers Association.
The second part of the Fair Justice Act would expand classifications for killings that can be prosecuted as a capital offense.
The offenses would include the murder of any persons or children on a school campus or day care center, as well as anyone covered by a “protection from abuse” order when the murder was committed. It will also include murders of any family member of a law enforcement official or public figure with the purpose of intimidation or retaliation.
Killing a law enforcement officer in the line of duty would also be considered an “aggravating circumstance,” or a factor that could be considered in determining whether to impose the death penalty.
“I think if he’s going to perform his duty to the public and put his life on the line, if he is killed the offender should be held accountable to the highest degree,” said Huntsville Police Chief Lewis Morris.
The final two bills Strange is supporting are the Child Protection and Safe Streets Act and the Alabama Witness Safe Harbor Act.
The Child Protection and Safe Streets Act would allow for wire-tapping during investigations regarding murder, kidnapping, child pornography, human trafficking, sex offenses involving children under 12, and felony drug offenses.
Currently wire-tapping is not allowed by Alabama law, however 42 other states and the federal government allow for it.
The Alabama Witness Safe Harbor Act, sponsored by Representative Mike Ball, would provide immunity to suspects whose testimony leads to the arrest of organized crime leaders.
“It require them to testify what they know truthfully in return for not being prosecuted,” said Strange. “The typical situation would be a low level drug dealer or someone in a human trafficking ring who doesn’t want to testify, but if they can be compelled, that information leads up the chain and makes our streets safer.”
Senator Bill Holtzclaw is sponsoring the Fair Justice Act and plans to introduce it soon after the legislature convenes next week.