State v. State (In re State)

Decision Date17 June 2016
Docket NumberCR–15–0619, CR–15–0622, CR–15–0623 and CR–15–0624.
Citation223 So.3d 954
Parties Ex parte STATE of Alabama. (In re State of Alabama v. Kenneth Eugene Billups) Ex parte State of Alabama. (In re: State of Alabama v. Stanley Brent Chatman). Ex parte State of Alabama (In re: State of Alabama v. Terrell Corey McMullin). Ex parte State of Alabama (In re: State of Alabama v. Benjamin Todd Acton).
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

Alabama Supreme Court 1151168, 1151169, 1151170, and 1151171.

Luther Strange, atty. gen., and Andrew L. Brasher, deputy atty. gen., and J. Clayton Crenshaw, asst. atty. gen., for petitioner.

Bryan A. Stevenson, Charlotte R. Morrison, and Rachel P. Judge, Montgomery, for respondents.

KELLUM, Judge.

The State of Alabama has filed four petitions for a writ of mandamus asking this Court to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its order declaring Alabama's "capital-sentencing scheme" unconstitutional and barring the State from seeking the death penalty in capital-murder prosecutions. Because these petitions address the same issue, we consolidate them for the purpose of writing a single opinion. We grant the petitions and issue the writs.

Facts and Procedural History

Kenneth Eugene Billups, Stanley Brent Chatman, Terrell Corey McMullin, and Benjamin Todd Acton (hereinafter collectively referred to as "respondents") were indicted for various counts of capital murder. Billups and Acton were each indicted for one count of murder made capital because it was committed during the course of a robbery, see § 13A–5–40(a)(2), Ala.Code 1975.1 Chatman and McMullin were each indicted for one count of the murder of two or more persons pursuant to one act or one scheme or course of conduct, see § 13A–5–40(a)(10), Ala.Code 1975, for two counts of murder made capital because it was committed during the course of a robbery, see § 13A–5–40(a)(2), Ala.Code 1975, and for two counts of murder made capital because it was committed during the course of a burglary, see § 13A–5–40(a)(4), Ala.Code 1975.2

Before trial, the respondents each filed a motion to bar imposition of the death penalty in their cases and to hold Alabama's capital-sentencing scheme unconstitutional based on the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in Hurst v. Florida , 577 U.S. ––––, 136 S.Ct. 616, 193 L.Ed.2d 504 (2016).3 The circuit court consolidated the motions and, after conducting a hearing, entered an order in all four cases concluding that "the capital sentencing scheme as provided by the Alabama Criminal Code is unconstitutional and is this day barred from enactment." (Petitions, Appendix A, p. 28.)

Standard of Review
"Before a writ of mandamus may issue, the petitioner must show (1) a clear legal right in the petitioner to the relief sought; (2) an imperative duty upon the respondent to perform, accompanied by a refusal to do so; (3) no adequate remedy at law; and (4) the properly invoked jurisdiction of the reviewing court."

State v. Reynolds , 819 So.2d 72, 79 (Ala.Crim.App.1999). "A writ of mandamus is a drastic and extraordinary writ and will not be issued unless the petitioner has a clear and undisputable right to a particular result." Ex parte Springer, 619 So.2d 1267, 1268 (Ala.1992). " 'A writ of mandamus is not granted unless there is a clear showing of error in the trial court to the injury of the petitioner.' " Ex parte Hutcherson , 847 So.2d 386, 388 (Ala.2002) (quoting Ex parte Southland Bank , 514 So.2d 954, 955 (Ala.1987) ).


As a threshold matter, we must determine whether mandamus is the proper avenue by which the State can seek review of the circuit court's order. The State argues that mandamus is appropriate because, it says, it has no other avenue to seek review of the court's order and the order, which prohibits the State from seeking the death penalty in capital-murder prosecutions, represents "an extraordinary disruption in the administration of criminal justice." (Petition, p. 19.) The respondents argue, on the other hand, that the State has a right to appeal the circuit court's ruling pursuant to § 12–22–91, Ala.Code 1975, and that, therefore, mandamus is not appropriate.

Although § 12–22–91 gives the State the right to appeal a lower court's order holding unconstitutional the statute "under which the indictment or information is preferred," as the State correctly argues the circuit court in this case did not hold unconstitutional the statute under which the respondents' indictments were preferred—§ 13A–5–40, Ala.Code 1975. Rather, the circuit court held unconstitutional Alabama's "capital-sentencing scheme," i.e., those statutes setting forth the procedures for imposing the death penalty in Alabama, see §§ 13A–5–44 through –52, Ala.Code 1975. "All statutes that authorize appeals are to be strictly construed," Dixon v. City of Mobile , 859 So.2d 462, 463 (Ala.Crim.App.2003), and "may not be enlarged or extended by judicial construction." State v. Gautney , 344 So.2d 232, 234 (Ala.Crim.App.1977). Under the plain language of § 12–22–91, the State could not appeal the circuit court's order in this case because the circuit court did not hold unconstitutional § 13A–5–40, Ala.Code 1975, the statute under which the indictments were preferred.4

This Court "has jurisdiction not only to issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of [our] appellate jurisdiction, but also has authority to issue such remedial and original writs as are necessary to give [us] a general superintendence and control of jurisdictions inferior to [us] in criminal matters." Ex parte Nice , 407 So.2d 874, 877 (Ala.1981). "[I]t is fairly well settled that notwithstanding the fact that the State has a restricted right in criminal cases to prosecute an appeal, the actions of a trial judge as to certain rulings in criminal cases may be reviewed by mandamus proceedings under appropriate circumstances." Id. at 878. Indeed, "a writ of mandamus is a supervisory order; thus, an appellate court may issue this writ in any situation, within recognized limits, where this writ is necessary to protect the proper judicial administration of the courts." Ex parte Sullivan , 779 So.2d 1157, 1161 (Ala.2000).

Although generally "[m]andamus cannot be used as a substitute for appeal, when no appeal is authorized by law or court rule, [it] can be used to prevent a gross disruption in the administration of criminal justice." Ex parte Nice , 407 So.2d at 879. Mandamus may also "be used by the government in aid of its lawful rights in the prosecution of criminal cases," id. at 879, and "in exceptional circumstances which amount to judicial usurpation of power." Id. at 878. "[O]nly the rarest of circumstances merit an intervention in a criminal case by mandamus; nevertheless, circumstances can arise which present a compelling need for the issuance of the mandamus to further important countervailing public interests." Id. at 880. These four cases present just the type of rare and exceptional circumstance that merits intervention by mandamus to prevent a gross disruption in the administration of criminal justice. Therefore, mandamus is the appropriate avenue for the State to seek review of the circuit court's order.


The State contends that the circuit court erred in holding that Hurst v. Florida , 577 U.S. ––––, 136 S.Ct. 616, 193 L.Ed.2d 504 (2016), rendered Alabama's capital-sentencing scheme unconstitutional. The State argues that Alabama's capital-sentencing scheme is constitutional under Hurst because the statutory scheme requires the jury, not the trial court, to make the findings necessary for imposition of the death penalty, during either the guilt phase or the penalty phase of the trial, and that it has a clear legal right to seek the death penalty in capital-murder prosecutions under Alabama's statutory scheme. In its order, the circuit court found that "capital defendants in Alabama are subject to having the 'maximum authorized punishment ... increased by a judge's own factfinding' " and that, therefore, "[i]n light of the ruling in Hurst , Alabama's capital-sentencing scheme, 'under which an advisory jury makes a recommendation to a judge, and the judge makes the critical findings needed for the imposition of a death sentence, violates the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.' " (Petitions, Appendix A, pp. 26–27; citations omitted.)

Initially, we point out that "statutes are presumed to be constitutional," State v. Adams , 91 So.3d 724, 732 (Ala.Crim.App.2010), and courts "should be very reluctant to hold any act unconstitutional." Ex parte Boyd , 796 So.2d 1092, 1094 (Ala.2001). In reviewing the constitutionality of a statute, courts " 'must afford the Legislature the highest degree of deference, and construe its acts as constitutional if their language so permits.' " Adams , 91 So.3d at 732 (quoting Monroe v. Harco, Inc. , 762 So.2d 828, 831 (Ala.2000) ). " '[I]n passing upon the constitutionality of a legislative act, the courts uniformly approach the question with every presumption and intendment in favor of its validity, and seek to sustain rather than strike down the enactment of a coordinate branch of government.' " Herring v. State , 100 So.3d 616, 620 (Ala.Crim.App.2011) (quoting Alabama State Fed. of Labor v. McAdory , 246 Ala. 1, 9, 18 So.2d 810, 815 (1944) ). "It is the duty of a court to sustain an act unless [the court] is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of [the act's] unconstitutionality." Handley v. City of Montgomery , 401 So.2d 171, 180 (Ala.Crim.App.1981). With respect to Alabama's capital-sentencing scheme, § 13A–5–58, Ala.Code 1975, specifically directs: "This article shall be interpreted, and if necessary reinterpreted, to be constitutional."

Before examining the opinion in Hurst , we first reexamine the opinions on which Hurst was based: Apprendi v. New Jersey , 530 U.S. 466, 120 S.Ct. 2348, 147 L.Ed.2d 435 (2000), and Ring v. Arizona , 536 U.S. 584, ...

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