CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

May 24, 2013

Conflict arises over sentence for Ala. juveniles

By BOB JOHNSON
Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. —

The sentence a juvenile who has been convicted of capital murder should receive is currently up in the air. That's because of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling and the failure of the Alabama Legislature to deal with the issue.

One of the state's leading defense attorneys in capital cases, Richard Jaffe of Birmingham, says he does not feel it's necessary for the Alabama Legislature to deal with the issue. He says in many cases, the question of sentencing can be answered by the parole board or judge.

But Republican Sen. Cam Ward, of Alabaster, who sponsored the legislation that failed in the last session, said lawmakers felt it necessary to deal with the issue to avoid conflict with last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision to throw out mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles.

Attorney General Luther Strange supported Ward's bill to fix the way juvenile capital murder defendants are sentenced.

"It is extremely disappointing that the House did not act on the Miller fix bill. They had ample opportunity to pass the legislation, but they chose not to, and have instead left prosecutors, judges, and crime victims to deal with the consequences. Our office is working with district attorneys across the State on this issue. We will continue to charge juveniles with capital murder, and we will continue to make our arguments in the courts."

Tommy Nail, the presiding Jefferson County Circuit court Criminal judge, said the failure of the Legislature to act on the issue leaves judges and lawyers to their own devices until the Supreme Court decides the issue.