Of the 34 states with the death penalty, Alabama is the only jurisdiction where judges routinely override jury verdicts of life to impose capital punishment. Since 1976, Alabama judges have overridden jury verdicts 107 times. Although judges have authority to override life or death verdicts, in 92% of overrides elected judges have overruled jury verdicts of life to impose the death penalty.
Twenty-one percent of the 199 people currently on Alabama’s death row were sentenced to death through judicial override. Judge override is the primary reason why Alabama has the highest per capita death sentencing rate and execution rate in the country. Last year, with a state population of 4.5 million people, Alabama imposed more new death sentences than Texas, with a population of 24 million.
Override is legal in only three states: Alabama, Delaware, and Florida. Florida and Delaware have strict standards for override. No one in Delaware is on death row as a result of an override and no death sentences have been imposed by override in Florida since 1999. In Delaware and Florida, override often is used to overrule jury death verdicts and impose life -- which rarely happens in Alabama.
From the Equal Justice Initiative via the Sentencing Law and Policy Blog.
The study will, very likely, be the basis of court challenges to and efforts to legislatively change the practice.