Don Siegelman Luncheon

Posted on Thu Sep 29, 2022

Warren and Simpson Lawfirm has started monthly luncheons. Each month they will host a speaker, round table discussion, or CLE. They hope to start needed conversations within the bar association in Alabama. In September, they heard from former Governor Don Seigelman on disparities in capital punishment in Alabama.

Governor Seigelman has an impressive history in Alabama politics. He is the only person to be elected into all four state-wide offices. He served as the Secretary of State from 1979-1987. Then from 1987-1991 he served as State Attorney General. In 1995 he was elected Lieutenant Governor, and in 1998 he was the first native Mobilian to be elected Governor of Alabama.

Governor Seigelman is no stranger to the corruption that can show up in the Alabama justice system. He now wants to raise awareness to the disparities in capital punishment in Alabama. Many states have outright banned capital punishment, but Alabama’s death sentence rate has not declined. We are an outlier sentencing more people to death per capita than any other state. It may be a long time before we see abolition in Alabama, but there are still actions we can take to make the death penalty harder to hand down. These changes could make the justice system as a whole more equitable.

The major problems Governor Seigelman raised during his speech at the luncheon were based in how we hand down the death penalty in Alabama. He first pointed out that Alabama is the only state where a citizen can be sent to death row without a unanimous agreement from the jury. In every other state, there is a law against that. Governor Seigelman wants us to consider making that law in Alabama.

He also brought up the glaring racial disparities in capital punishment. In Alabama, people convicted of killing a white person are four times more likely to receive a capital punishment than those convicted of killing a person of color. Nearly half of all people on death row are black - a percentage disproportionate to the population of black people in Alabama. Other state Governors have placed a moratorium on the death penalty in order to study racial disparities in the death sentence.

In 2017, Alabama finally banned judicial review for the death penalty. Many people who were sentenced to death by judicial review are still on death row today. Making the ban on judicial review retroactive would give the power back to the juries in those cases. The problem of adequate counsel is also important for those on death row. Alabama has no money set aside for people to appeal their death sentences. This is especially critical in Alabama given our shocking error rate. One in eight people sentenced ends up exonerated. Funding counsel and appeals would prevent the innocent from ending up on death row.

Don Seigelman is a former Governer who has unique insight into the justice system in Alabama. From his perspective, it is easy to see the need for reform in capital punishment. Alabama is an outlier in the way we hand it down, and making changes could make our justice system more equitable as a whole. In this luncheon, he highlighted the urgent need to reform the death penalty. Warren and Simpson are proud to facilitate these kinds of conversations. The more brilliant minds meet, the more we find new and innovative ways to reform Alabama.