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An Alabama inmate on Friday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his upcoming execution to consider whether a judge should have been able to give him a death sentence when the jury recommended life imprisonment.
 
Ronald Bert Smith is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection next Thursday for the 1994 slaying of Huntsville convenience store clerk Casey Wilson. A jury recommended life imprisonment without parole by a 7-5 vote, but a judge sentenced Smith to death.

"Alabama is the only state that allows a judge to sentence a defendant to death when the jury has recommended a sentence of life," lawyers for Smith wrote in the petition, noting that Florida and Delaware abolished that capability this year.

The petition could put the issue of judicial override before the court.

The U.S. Supreme Court in January struck down Florida's similar sentencing structure because it gave too much power to judges. Justices ruled that "the Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death."

Smith's lawyers argued that Alabama's death penalty structure is also unconstitutional because an Alabama jury can recommend a sentence of life without parole, but a judge can override that recommendation and impose a death sentence.




Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is taking her bid for a statewide recount of Pennsylvania's Nov. 8 presidential election to federal court.

After announcing Stein and recount supporters were dropping their case in state court, lawyer Jonathan Abady said they will seek an emergency federal court order Monday.

"Make no mistake — the Stein campaign will continue to fight for a statewide recount in Pennsylvania," Abady said in a statement Saturday night. "We are committed to this fight to protect the civil and voting rights of all Americans."

He said barriers to a recount in Pennsylvania are pervasive and the state court system is ill-equipped to address the problem.

Stein has spearheaded a recount effort in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, three states with a history of backing Democrats for president that were narrowly and unexpectedly won by Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Stein has framed the campaign as an effort to explore whether voting machines and systems had been hacked and the election result manipulated. Stein's lawyers, however, have offered no evidence of hacking in Pennsylvania's election, and the state Republican Party and Trump had asked the court to dismiss the state court case.

China court clears man 21 years after his execution

•  Recent Cases     updated  2016/12/03 16:23


China's supreme court ruled Friday that a young man executed 21 years ago for rape and murder had been innocent, in a case that has drawn attention to problems in the legal system as well as the frequent application of the death penalty.

Nie Shubin was 20 at the time of his 1995 execution for crimes he was accused of committing in the northern city of Shijiazhuang in August of 1994. Another man, Wang Shujin, confessed to the crimes in 2005 while in police custody, although a legal review of the case did not get underway until 2014.

In its ruling, the court cited numerous examples of negligence and procedural errors by police and prosecutors, including the fact that Nie was singled out as a suspect "without a shred of evidence." It also said it couldn't rule out that Nie's testimony was coerced by torture or other means, a frequent accusation against the legal system that relies heavily on confessions to gain convictions.

China ordered speeded-up trials and executions during anti-crime campaigns in the 1990s, leading to frequent cutting of corners by legal authorities. Two years ago, another court ruled that 18-year-old Huugjilt, an ethnic Mongolian who was executed in 1996 for rape and murder, also was innocent after another man confessed to the crime. The court awarded Huugjilt's parents compensation.

However, under reforms in recent years, all death penalties are now automatically reviewed by the supreme court and the justices say executions are carried out only for the most heinous crimes. The exact number of people put to death is a state secret, but rights groups say China remains the world's top executioner.

Chinese legal scholar Xu Xin, a prominent advocate of legal reforms to reduce wrongful convictions, said Nie's case has emerged as highly representative of the country's problems with miscarriages of justice.

"In China's legal and social spheres, this case has garnered the greatest concern and has the most influence. Everyone's views on this case have basically been the same — that there was grave injustice," Xu said.

But the fact that it took this long for him to be exonerated shows the challenges ordinary people face in gaining legal redress in China, he said. "A vindication like this implies that compensation would have to be made, and someone could potentially be held responsible for the mistake, so that makes authorities unwilling to make an active push to correct the injustice," he said.

He credited the Chinese media, concerned defense lawyers and others who drew attention to the case for the court's overturning of the verdict, but said that the problem at the heart of the issue remained China's lack of an independent judiciary.

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