Alabama’s Habitual Felony Offender Act and HB 107: There’s More To The Story Of Why This Bill Needs To Go

 Further debate on Representative Chris England’s House Bill 107 calling for the repeal of Alabama’s Habitual Felony Offender Act is set to take place soon in the House Judiciary Committee. 

  The Free Alabama Movement is trying to learn more information about the group of people sentenced to life without parole as a habitual offender. This additional information is vital to any legitimate debate about why this law should be repealed. We also need to know more about the historical application of this law. 

 According to a report by Alabamians For Fair Justice, 75% of all individuals sentenced to life without parole as a habitual offender are Black. 

Ronald Mckeithen. Over 37 years for convenience store robbery. 

This racial distinction is consistent with other laws enacted during the tough-on-crime era. For example, in 1997, a special report to Congress by the U. S. Sentencing Commission found that Black people accounted for nearly 90% of all people convicted of federal crack offenses, even though the majority of crack users are white. Additionally, from 1988 to 1995, federal prosecutors did not bring a single white person to trial under the crack provisions of federal law in 17 states.

 Based on our math from the limited resources we have access to, appx. 750 people in Alabama are sentenced to life without parole as habitual offenders. This number needs to be accurately determined. We also want to know which counties imposed each of these sentences of life without parole. 

  The ACLU’s Smart Justice Campaign reported that 527 of the appx. 750 LWOP sentences are for non-homicide offenses.

 “Report: HFOA — Smart Justice Alabama” https://alabamasmartjustice.org/report-alabama-hfoa

  We need to know the demographics of these 527 people sentenced to life without parole for a non-homicide offense. Many of the recent high profile cases where LWOP was rescinded (Archie Hamlet, Jerald Sanders (LWOP for stealing a $16.00 bicycle) Geneva Cooley, Ira Coney, Alvin Kennard, Flavius Henderson, Ronald McKeithen, Derek Jenkins, Stanley Washington, and several more) involved Black people. 

Archie Hamlet served over 22 years on a LWOP for 14 lbs of marijuana before his sentence was reduced in 2017. 

Of the appx. 527 still serving LWOP for a non-homicide offense, what were they convicted of? What type of prior felonies were used to enhance? How much time has each of them already served? We also need to know the racial composition of this group because data suggests that Black people are disproportionately and over sentenced to LWOP. How many of these non-homicide cases involve Black people? 

  One of the more well known and egregious instances of injustice concerning a life without parole as a habitual offender involves a Black man, Willed Simmons. Clearly, racial justice is an important factor to consider when debating whether the habitual offender law needs to be repealed. 

Willie Simmons was convicted of first-degree robbery for wrestling a man to the ground over $9.00 and sentenced to life without parole in 1982. Simmons, an Army veteran, became addicted to drugs while stationed outside of the United States. He was prosecuted under Alabama’s habitual offender law, which is similar to other three-strikes laws. Simmons had three prior convictions

  Furthermore, it appears that less than 250 people combined have life without parole for some form of a homicide or other crime. We are very interested in learning the specifics of each case, what type of prior felony convictions were used to enhance,  as well as the demographics of this group, especially as it relates to the 75%?  

  There are many other unanswered questions about this law that needs to be known. For example, what are the prior felonies used for enhancement purposes? Some enhancement priors, such as minor drug possession, shoplifting, and other theft offenses, are now reclassified as Class D offenses, and can no longer be used for enhancement purposes. How many of these felonies are still being used today to maintain these sentences? 

    Other important unknown factors include:

1. What offense was each individual convicted of when they received the sentence of life without parole?

2. If convicted today under current Alabama law, what would the sentencing options be?

3. What prior felony convictions were used to enhance and how old were the prior felony convictions? 

4. Were any felonies used to enhance that are no longer considered felonies under current Alabama law?

5. How many prior enhancement felonies were for offenses like burglary, shoplifting, check/debits cards, theft, minor drug possession or sales, or other similar offenses?

6. How many people serving life without parole have already served at least 20 years or more?

7. How many people serving life without parole as a habitual offender were sentenced after being convicted for their first felony offense involving serious physical injury or death (all priors convictions were for property crimes or drug offenses)?

  We need research help to get answers to these and other questions. If you are interested in assisting, please share information to freealabamamovement@gmail.com under the title Habitual Felony Offender Act. 

Free Alabama Movement

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