Alabama House passes bill authorizing review of some habitual felony offender sentences
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, speaks with a colleague prior to the start of the session of the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. He was one of the few lawmakers who was critical of the bill reducing good time incentives for people incarcerated. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)
The Alabama House of Representatives Tuesday approved a bill that could give a small group of inmates the chance to have their sentences reviewed.
HB 229, sponsored by Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, is intended to give people who had been convicted of a crime that did not result in a physical injury to a person and sentenced under the law before 2000 the chance to have their sentences reviewed.
“When you were convicted, it can be much more important than what you were convicted of,” said England. “Meaning there are people who have matriculated through the system who have done things more serious than the people who are serving life without parole.”
The bill passed the House on a 64-37 vote. It moves to the Senate.
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Alabama passed the Habitual Felony Offender Act in 1977, enhancing penalties for those convicted of felonies who had served time for felony convictions in the past. The legislation played a significant role in the state’s current prison overcrowding crisis.
The law was revised in 2000 to offer judges more discretion in sentencing people with prior felony convictions.
England said that because of changes to the law relating to habitual offenders and mandatory release, depending on when the crime occurred, the state classified some non-violent offenses as violent.
Under England’s bill, a person sentenced to prison before May 26, 2000 whose crime did not involve physical injury to another person will have a chance to have their sentences reviewed.
England said the bill would affect about 300 inmates. According to the Alabama Department of Corrections, there were 19,873 people in state prisons in March.
Amendments to the legislation removed a provision that limited reviews to people who are 50 years old or older. Other amendments pushed by Rep. Russell Bedsole, R-Alabaster, would require judges to consider objections of victims and whether a firearm was used in considering resentencing.
Bedsole said that while he may have a reputation of keeping inmates in prison longer, he saw an opportunity to improve the system for “a very narrowly defined group of people.” He said that he “insisted” that victims have a voice in the process.
“I was thinking to myself that I might have been one of the most unlikely people to want to work on this,” Bedole said.
England agreed and said that “not only do (victims) have to be notified, but they also get the opportunity to speak and the judge, by law, is required to give that testimony considerable weight.”
England said that the bill places considerable weight on whether and how a weapon was used. The process is also more exhaustive than other processes in place, such as mandatory release, because of the amendments added, such as giving victim’s testimony considerable weight, judged ability to evaluate the case, and notifying law enforcement about the hearing.
Updated at 1:50 p.m. Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story said the bill would apply to people who had been convicted of a crime that resulted in physical injury. The bill applies to people who have not been convicted of a crime resulting in a physical injury.
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