MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WHNT) — On Thursday, the Alabama Supreme Court made changes to its rules to limit the review of “plain error” in death penalty cases as well as changed the time frames of executions.
The first change comes after the conflict of three members, and it will limit death row prisoners’ ability to appeal – with the new rule limiting review of plain error in death penalty cases.
“What it means is that people condemned to death are going to have constitutional violations that aren’t addressed by reviewing courts and that we are going to execute wrongly convicted people,” explained American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alabama senior legal counselor Allison Mollman.
Mandatory plain error view has existed under Rule 45A for 44 years.
“The rule change that came forward on Thursday says even if there was constitutional violation if the lawyer didn’t object [to] a trial,” Mollman said, “appellate courts are no longer required to consider those constitutional violations and to remedy them.”
“It’s a big change,” Mollman agrees. “It’s [a] change that we weren’t expecting and that changes the law after 44 years.”
In addition, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey requested changes to court rules on executions back in December – but hadn’t specifically asked the court to hand the power to set execution time frames over to the governor’s office.
Before the change, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) had to carry out executions within a 24-hour time frame.
If an execution attempt failed, the department had to seek a new execution date from the state supreme court.
Mollman added that these additional changes are problematic.
“What’s troubling about this is, we recognize that the Department of Corrections was basically botching executions…now we are putting the power for them to basically torture people for as many as hours for as many days as they need to, to get the execution done.”
Now, Gov. Ivey will be able to issue an execution warrant for a time frame rather than a single day.
The new rules go into effect immediately.