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Alabama Offers the Toughest Death Penalty Law

The AP reports today that the states involved in the sniper shooting are vying to demonstrate which has the toughest death penalty law in order to convince the federal government to give them the first opportunity to prosecute the suspects. On this count, a brief review I have performed suggests that the state with the toughest law is Alabama. While Virginia does have the death penalty for minors, thereby permitting capital charges against Mr. Malvo, it also has a "triggerman" requirement (requiring the prosecutor to show that the defendant actually pulled the trigger for a fatal shot) for capital convictions. Given this, it is predictable that Malvo and Muhammed will get into a he-said/he-said defense, each claiming that the other actually pulled the trigger in a concerted attempt to avoid the death penalty. Even with the triggerman requirement, this defense is likely to fail: the evidence seems to suggest more than one shooter, and it is unlikely that a jury would be convinced by the defendants’ fingerpointing. That said, however, Alabama does not have a "triggerman" requirement, but rather permits capital punishment for accomplices to intentional murder. Accordingly, when combined with Alabama’s law permitting the death penalty for minors, and Alabama’s strong record for upholding capital convictions on appeal, it appears that Alabama would have the toughest capital law.

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