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Alabama may soon review some habitual offender sentences


A few hundred Alabama prisoners serving life sentences for crimes such as robbery under Alabama's stringent habitual offender law would see their punishments reviewed under legislation being considered. The Alabama Judiciary Committee approved the bill by House member Chris England, a Democrat from Tuscaloosa. It establishes a temporary review process for a small group of inmates sentenced before May 26, 2000. Only inmates sentenced to life without parole for crimes where no one was physically injured would be eligible to have their sentences reviewed. England estimates that about 300 to 400 inmates, mostly given life sentences in their youth for crimes such as robbery, would be eligible. The bill now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives.

England estimates that about 300 to 400 inmates, mostly given life sentences in their youth for crimes such as robbery, would be eligible for the one-time review. He said the bill is designed to create a review path for people sentenced decades ago to the harsh punishment who might not have received the same sentence today.

"I think you're going to see that these folks were not defined by their worst moments," England told reporters after the vote.

The bill would establish a process for a judge to hear motions for sentence reductions from eligible inmates. Decisions would be final. The legislation would be automatically repealed within five years.

Alabama Appleseed, a non-profit organization that works on criminal justice reform, had urged the passage of the bill.

Frederick Spight, policy director for Alabama Appleseed, said many of the life sentences were handed down for robbery and burglary convictions during the 1980s and 1990s.

"All of these individuals were destined to die in prison. So now, at least, they have a pathway," Spight said.

The Judiciary Committee approved the legislation on a voice vote with only one or two nay votes.

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