Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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The Clay County Commission appealed a trial court decision in favor of Clay County Animal Shelter, Inc. In July 2017, the county commission and three individuals ("the plaintiffs") initiated an action in against the animal shelter and certain state officials seeking injunctive relief and a judgment, pursuant to section 6-6-220 et seq., Ala. Code 1975, declaring that part of Act No. 2017-65 directing an expenditure of a portion of Clay County's tobacco-tax proceeds to the animal shelter to be unconstitutional. The plaintiffs asserted that Act No. 2017-65 was improperly enacted without a sufficient number of legislative votes in violation of Article IV, section 73, Ala. Const. 1901. The plaintiffs also filed a motion seeking a preliminary injunction to temporarily restrain distribution of Clay County's tobacco-tax receipts to the animal shelter. The animal shelter moved to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint. The Alabama Supreme Court held the plain meaning of the language in Act No. 2017-65 provided for an appropriation to the animal shelter of 18% of Clay County's tobacco-tax proceeds. The animal shelter did not dispute that it is a "charitable or educational institution not under the absolute control of the state" within the meaning of section 73, nor did it argue that an appropriation to it would be exempt from the voting requirements of section 73. Thus, the legislature's appropriation to the animal shelter had to receive "a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house" to comply with section 73. "It did not. That part of Act No. 2017-65 appropriating 18% of Clay County's tobacco-tax proceeds, i.e., Section 2(a)(3), is, therefore, unconstitutional." The trial court's judgment upholding Section 2(a)(3) was, therefore, reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Clay County Commission v. Clay County Animal Shelter, Inc." on Justia Law

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Taurus Carroll was convicted on one count of murder for intentionally causing the death of Michael Turner, a fellow inmate, after having been convicted of another murder within the preceding 20 years, and a second count of murder made capital for committing murder while Carroll was under a sentence of life imprisonment. Before he was sentenced, Carroll argued to the circuit court that he was intellectually disabled and therefore, under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), ineligible to be sentenced to death. The circuit court rejected that argument and, following the jury's unanimous recommendation, sentenced Carroll to death for each capital-murder conviction. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Carroll's convictions and sentences. On May 1, 2017, the United States Supreme Court granted Carroll's petition for a writ of certiorari, vacated the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals, and remanded the case to that court "for further consideration in light of Moore v. Texas, 581 U.S. ___ (2017)." On remand, the Court of Criminal Appeals again affirmed Carroll's convictions and sentences. The Alabama Supreme Court granted Carroll's petition for a writ of certiorari, and concluded the circuit court did not exceed its discretion in determining that Carroll failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that he suffered from significant or substantial deficits in adaptive functioning as an adult and that his current intellectual deficits arose during the developmental period. The Alabama Court further concluded the circuit court's final determination that Carroll was eligible for the death penalty did not violate Atkins, Moore, Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. 701 (2014), and Brumfield v. Cain, 576 U.S. ___ (2015). View "Ex parte Taurus Jermaine Carroll." on Justia Law

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Aaron Smith, an officer employed by the City of Montgomery Police Department, petitions the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to vacate its order denying Smith immunity pursuant to 13A–3–23(d), Ala. Code 1975, and to enter an order granting Smith immunity under that statute. In the alternative, Smith asked for mandamus relief directing the Montgomery County Circuit Judge enter an order recusing himself from the case. Smith requested a change of venue based on pretrial publicity. The Supreme Court surmised the issue of Smith's credibility would arise at trial because he appeared to be the only witness to the incident underlying these proceedings, and he might be called to testify at trial in support of a defense of self- defense. "The risk of prejudice under these circumstances is evident where the trial judge has already stated that he does not find Smith to be credible and that statement has been widely reported in the local community from which the jury pool would be drawn. Judge Griffin's comments were made and reported approximately six moths ago, in late July 2018. There is no dispute that this case has generated much attention in Montgomery County, and it seems likely to generate continued attention moving forward. It is reasonable to assume that Judge Griffin's comments regarding Smith's credibility will continue to be dispersed in the local media." Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded Smith could not have his case decided by a fair and impartial jury in Montgomery County. Because Smith demonstrated a clear legal right to the relief sought, the Supreme Court granted his petition as to the change-of-venue and recusal issues and directed that this case be transferred to another venue. The Court denied relief as to all other issues raised. View "Ex parte Aaron Cody Smith." on Justia Law

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The Alabama Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to review the Court of Criminal Appeals' opinion reversing in part the Dale Circuit Court's order granting Emanuel Gissendanner, Jr. a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel and a violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). In 2001, Gissendanner was charged with three counts of capital murder in the death of Margaret Snellgrove: murder during a kidnapping in the first degree; murder during a robbery in the first degree; and murder during a rape. A separate indictment charged Gissendanner with possessing or uttering a forged check drawn on Snellgrove's bank account. He was convicted of two counts of capital murder -- murder during the course of a robbery and murder during the course of a kidnapping -- and of possession of a forged instrument. The jury recommended by a vote of 10-2 that he be sentenced to death on the capital-murder convictions. The Supreme Court determined the Court of Criminal Appeals applied the wrong standard of review to the disputed facts and failed to give considerable weight to the finding of prejudicial ineffective assistance of counsel by Judge Quattlebaum, the original trial judge who also presided over the Rule 32 proceedings. "Judge Quattlebaum did not exceed his discretion in ordering a new trial based on defense counsel's prejudicially ineffective pretrial investigation." Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals to the extent it reversed Judge Quattlebaum's order granting Gissendanner's petition for postconviction relief, and the Court directed the trial court to take the necessary action to reinstate Judge Quattlebaum's order granting Gissendanner a new trial. In light of this holding, the Court pretermitted discussion of the remaining issues raised in Gissendanner's petition. View "Ex parte Emanuel Aaron Gissendanner, Jr." on Justia Law

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Jessie Phillips was sentenced to death for the intentional killing of his wife and their unborn child. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Phillips's conviction but remanded the case for the trial court to address certain defects and errors in its sentencing order. The Alabama Supreme Court granted certiorari review 13 issues raised in Phillips's petition related to jury instructions on transferred intent and intent and knowledge; the application of section 13A-1-6, Ala. Code 1975, known as "the Brody Act," to the facts of this case; the chain of custody of a urine sample taken during Erica's autopsy and used to conduct a pregnancy test and the requirements of the Confrontation Clause in regard to the sample; the trial court's consideration of nonstatutory aggravating circumstances; the use of peremptory strikes under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986); the admission into evidence of an autopsy photograph; the amendment of or material variance from the indictment; the comments that the jury's sentencing verdict was advisory; the "double counting" of capital offenses; and the disparate nature of Phillips's sentencing. After review, the Supreme Court concurred with the Court of Criminal Appeals, and affirmed its judgment. View "Ex parte Jessie Livell Phillips." on Justia Law

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Reginald Rogers petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari on an issue of first impression: whether the oral-pronouncement rule discussed in Ex parte Kelley, 246 So. 3d 1068 (Ala. 2015), applied where a Uniform Traffic Ticket and Complaint ("UTTC") has been filed and thereafter purportedly disposed of by a municipal court magistrate based on a guilty plea pursuant to Rule 19(C)(1), Ala. R. Jud. Admin. Rule 39(a)(1)(C), Ala. R. App. P., stated that the Supreme Court could grant a petition for writ of certiorari "[f]rom decisions where a material question requiring decision is one of first impression for the Supreme Court of Alabama." In light of the record before it, the question as framed by Rogers in his petition was not a material question requiring decision by the Supreme Court, but a hypothetical question based on facts contrary to the record. As such, the Court quashed Rogers' writ. View "Ex parte Reginald Deshone Rogers." on Justia Law

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Anthony Lane was convicted for felony murder with the predicate offense of first-degree robbery. Although Lane initially lied to police about his involvement in the murder, he eventually told police that he had approached Frank Wright at a car wash to ask him the time, that Wright had used a degrading racial epithet to describe Lane, and that Lane had "blanked out" and shot Wright multiple times, killing him. Lane claimed that, after he shot Wright, he panicked and drove away in Wright's vehicle. A police officer testified that Wright's body, which was found at the car wash, was discovered with his pants pockets "turned out" and his wallet missing. Wright's wallet was discovered later in his vehicle, containing his personal identification documents but no money. An investigating police officer testified that, in his opinion, Wright's vehicle had been "ransacked," although the wallet, the stereo, and other valuable items had not been taken. Before he was sentenced, Lane argued to the trial court that he was intellectually disabled and therefore, under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), ineligible to be sentenced to death. The trial court rejected that argument and, following the jury's 10-2 recommendation, sentenced Lane to death. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Lane's conviction and sentence. The United States Supreme Court granted Lane's petition certiorari review, vacated the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment, and remanded for further consideration in light of Hall v. Florida, 134 S.Ct. 1986 (2014). On remand, the Court of Criminal Appeals again affirmed Lane's conviction and sentence. The State changed its position, now agreeing with Lane's argument, and conceded that the trial court should not have sentenced Lane to death. The remaining issue before the Alabama Supreme Court centered around whether Lane had the requisite deficits in adaptive skills necessary to render him intellectually disabled. The Court of Criminal Appeals determined that Hall afforded Lane no relief. The Supreme Court disagreed, vacating that court's order and remanding to the trial court for resentencing to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. View "Ex parte Anthony Lane." on Justia Law

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On January 21, 2014, House Bill 331 (H.B. 331) was introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives "to authorize the [Chilton] county commission to levy an additional one cent sales tax which shall be used exclusively for the construction, maintenance, and operation of a hospital in Chilton County; to provide for an expiration date for the tax; and to provide for a referendum and subsequent referendums." H.B. 331 was approved by both the Alabama House and Senate. The Governor signed the bill into law, designated as Act 2014-162. Notices had been placed in a county newspaper containing the full text of a second bill, introduced as Senate Bill 462 (S.B. 462), "to levy additional sales and use taxes to be used for the construction, maintenance, and operation of hospital facilities in Chilton County; to provide for certain matters relating to the administration, collection, and enforcement of such taxes; to provide for the effective date and termination of such taxes; to provide for an advisory referendum regarding the levy of the taxes; to provide that such taxes may not be abated pursuant to Chapter 9B, Title 40, Code of Alabama 1975, or otherwise; and to authorize the pledge of such taxes by Chilton County or a public corporation acting as its agent to secure indebtedness issued for the purposes for which the taxes are authorized." S.B. 462 was approved by both the House and Senate, and again forwarded to the Governor, who declined to sign it so that it be amended so that it repealed the earlier bill as a duplicative Act. The Legislature approved an amended version of S.B. 462, and the amended bill was signed into law as Act 2014-422. No notice of 2014-422 was ever published to Chilton County. An advisory referendum was held in Chilton County pursuant to Act No. 2014-422, and voters approved the tax. Roy Burnett filed a complaint on behalf of himself and others who paid the tax pursuant to 2014-422, arguing the act was unconstitutional because the bill was designed to raise revenue and did not originate in the House,and was not published after it was amended and signed into law. The Alabama Supreme Court determined 2014-422 was not unconstitutional because it was designed to "raise revenue" as that phrase was contemplated by section 70 of the Alabama Constitution. However, the Court found the Act violated section 107 of the Constitution because no published notice of the Act informed the people of Chilton County it was repealing Act 2014-162. Judgment was reversed that the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Burnett v. Chilton County Health Care Authority and Chilton County" on Justia Law

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In 2000, George Martin was convicted of murdering his wife, Hammoleketh. The jury found that Martin killed his wife to collect the proceeds from life-insurance policies he had taken out on her life. The jury recommended by a vote of 8-4 that Martin be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, but the trial court overrode the jury's recommendation and sentenced Martin to death. After his conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal, Martin filed a Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P., petition for postconviction relief in which he alleged, among other things, that the State had suppressed material exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). After conducting an evidentiary hearing, the circuit court granted Martin's Rule 32 petition and held that he was entitled to a new trial. While preparing for a new trial, Martin moved to dismiss the indictment as both a sanction for the State's willful misconduct, and because the prejudice resulting from that misconduct could not be corrected with a new trial. The trial court ultimately dismissed the indictment with prejudice on the grounds that the State's misconduct was willful and that the prejudice to Martin resulting from that misconduct could not be corrected by a new trial. The State appealed. After review of the trial and appellate court records, the Supreme Court held the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in affirming the trial court's order imposing the extreme sanction of dismissing the indictment. Accordingly, the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment was reversed and the case remanded for a new trial. View "Ex parte State of Alabama." on Justia Law

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On January 7, 2018, John Doe, a minor, by and through his mother S.C., filed the underlying action against the Montgomery County Board of Education, seeking compensatory damages and punitive damages arising from an alleged assault on Doe by a school employee at the elementary school Doe attended, as a result of which Doe was injured. The complaint asserted a single count of negligence against the Board and other unidentified fictitiously named defendants. Specifically, Doe alleged the Board breached its duty "to not place him in harm or specifically harm him" and that the Board failed to properly train and supervise the employee allegedly responsible for the assault. The Board petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to dismiss Does' lawsuit, on sovereign immunity grounds. Finding the Board was an entity of the State, it enjoyed immunity from Doe's action under section 14 of the Alabama Constitution. Accordingly, the Board has demonstrated a clear legal right to a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to dismiss the lawsuit against it, and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Montgomery County Board of Education." on Justia Law