Excessive Sentencing Project - Alabama

Policies and rulings on lengthy imprisonment terms in Alabama.

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  • Alabama has retained parole, however it is not available for all sentences.
  • Alabama imposes mandatory LWOP and JLWOP. See Ala. Code § 13A-5-40 (LWOP for murder).
  • Minimum age for transfer of a juvenile to adult court is age 14.
  • The offender must currently exhibit sub-average intellectual functioning (an IQ of or below 70), currently exhibit deficits in adaptive behavior, and these problems must have manifested themselves before the age of 18. Ex parte Smith, 2010 Ala. LEXIS 210 (Ala. Oct. 22, 2010). Defendant bears the burden of proving mental retardation. Id.
State Constitution

Alabama Const. Art. I, Sec. 15 (2012)

Section 15: Excessive fines; cruel or unusual punishment. That excessive fines shall not be imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishment inflicted.

NOTE: Art. 1, Sec. 15 has been treated as the equivalent of the Eighth Amendment. While the dissent in In Ex parte Hester, 473 So. 2d 1054 (Ala. 1985) treated Section 15 as broader than the Eighth Amendment, no controlling authority has done so.

Statutes
  1. Sentencing Guidelines System – “Initial Voluntary Sentencing Standards”

    Alabama has a voluntary sentencing guidelines system, the Initial Voluntary Sentencing Standards, which allows a judge to depart from the recommended sentence based on the facts of the case. Worksheets available at:  http://sentencingcommission.alacourt.gov/sent_standards2006.html
     
  2. Proportionality Review for Death Sentences: Ala. Code 13A-5-53(b)(3) (1994) –

    (b) In determining whether death was the proper sentence in the case the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, subject to review by the Alabama Supreme Court, shall determine:

    (1) Whether the sentence of death was imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor;
    (2) Whether an independent weighing of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances at the appellate level indicates that death was the proper sentence; and
    (3) Whether the sentence of death is excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the crime and the defendant.
     
  3. Habitual Offender Act - Code of Ala. § 13A-5-9. Repeat or habitual offenders; generally.
    • Alabama’s Habitual Felony Offender Act does not violate the federal and state constitutions’ prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. Wilbourn v. State, 457 So. 2d 1001 (Ala. Crim. App. 1984).   
Case Law

State Constitution & Proportionality 

"While this court may rule a fine or sentence excessive, the separation of powers doctrine forces this court not to substitute its own judgment for that of the legislature unless those constitutional guarantees of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or of Article I, § 15, 1901, Alabama Constitution are clearly violated.” Wilson v. State, 830 So. 2d 765, 771 (Ala. Crim. App. 2001) (quoting Cabble v. State, 347 So. 2d 546 (Ala.Cr.App.), cert. denied, 347 So. 2d 551 (Ala.1977)); Eldridge v. State, 418 So. 2d 203 (Ala. Crim. App. 1982).

While appellate courts are generally prohibited from reviewing sentences within the statutory range, courts may review such a sentence if it is “so disproportionate to the offense charged that it constitutes a violation of the defendant’s Eighth Amendment rights.”
 Wilson v. State, 830 So. 2d 765, 777 (Ala. Crim. App. 2001) (citing Ex parte Maddox, 502 So. 2d 786 (Ala. 1986)).

Under any statute which does not provide a sentencing range, the court’s sentence “must not be grossly disproportionate to the severity of the crime, or be shocking to the sense of justice or the conscience of reasonable persons, or outrage the moral sense of the community,” as required by § 15 of the 1901 Alabama Constitution and the Eighth Amendment. Dickerson v. State, 414 So. 2d 998 (Ala. Crim. App. 1982).

While Alabama courts have “not consistently interpreted and applied Harmelin” in regards to proportionality analyses, Justice Kennedy’s narrow proportionality analysis appears dominant. Wilson v. State, 830 So. 2d 765, 777-78 (Ala. Crim. App. 2001).

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The death penalty does not violate the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment under the Alabama Constitution. Death by electrocution also does not violate the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment under the Alabama Constitution. Hocker v. State, 840 So. 2d 197 (Ala. Crim. App. 2002).

 The following cases mention both the Eighth Amendment and Article 1, Section 15 of the Alabama Constitution, but do not provide a significant separate analysis for Article 1, Section 15:

  • Harris v. State, 352 So. 2d 479 (Ala. 1977) –
  • State v. Adams, 2010 Ala. Crim. App. LEXIS 104 (Ala. Crim. App. Nov. 5, 2010) – Holding that a statute which requires sex offenders to provide an actual address at which they will reside violates the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The statute punished offenders based on their homeless status.
  • Connell v. State, 7 So. 3d 1068 (Ala. Crim. App. 2008) – Failure to properly raise below.

Leading Court Discussions of Graham and Miller 

Ex parte Henderson, 1120140, 2013 WL 4873077 (Ala. Sept. 13, 2013)( Discretionary LWOP sentence to a juvenile charged with capital murder is constitutional because Miller does not categorically bar LWOP but just mandated individualized sentencing for juveniles; Even only two punishments, i.e. death penalty and LWOP, are permissible under § 13A–5–39, Ala.Code 1975, court can apply the principle of Supreme court decision and consider parole eligibility for juveniles) (This case has an interesting discussion about the meaning of “mandatory”) 

Severe Sentences 

  • Ex parte Hester, 473 So. 2d 1054 (Ala. 1985) – Relying on Alabama’s Habitual Felony Offender Act, Code 1975, § 13A-5-9, the court refused to find that a 99-year sentence of imprisonment for possession of a forged check constituted cruel and unusual punishment.