Academic journal article Jones Law Review

Procedure Trumps Justice: Judicial Inactivism in Alabama and Its Unjust Result

Academic journal article Jones Law Review

Procedure Trumps Justice: Judicial Inactivism in Alabama and Its Unjust Result

Article excerpt



"Justice is the means by which established injustices are sanctioned." (1) Alabama does not have a procedure for the wrongly convicted to pursue claims of actual innocence. Fagan v. Alabama is the most recent in a line of cases in the state of Alabama that places procedure paramount to justice. (2) The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has affirmed the denial of all post-conviction DNA requests from incarcerated individuals. (3) In Fagan, without addressing the merits of the claim, the court upheld the denial of an individual's request for post-conviction DNA testing, which could exonerate him, simply because Alabama does not have a procedure in place for such a request. (4)

The holding in Fagan raises some significant concerns. First, the decision raises the question of whether judicial procedure is more important than justice and truth. Second, the decision raises the question of whether judicial inactivism in Alabama courts might cost some innocent citizens their freedom. And lastly, the holding begs the question as to why the reasoning used in Fagan and similar cases has persisted when there are easy ways to remedy the injustice created therein.

While the reasoning in Fagan will inevitably yield the exact same results in every situation, it is incorrect. The dissent in Fagan, which adopts the dissent from Barbour v. Alabama, correctly addresses the problem by requiring the court to remand the case back to the circuit court with guidelines of how to review requests for post-conviction DNA testing? This course of action is within the court's powers and would lead to a more just result than the majority's inaction.

The first section of this Note discusses the procedures used to request DNA testing after conviction and direct appeal. Specifically, it highlights the lack of such procedure in Alabama. The second section gives the facts and procedural posture of Fagan. The third section is an analysis of Fagan that discusses: (1) the do-nothing approach of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals; (2) the effect of a lack of procedure and the need for a solution; (3) alternative procedures from other jurisdictions, including legislative remedies; and (4) suggestions to alleviate this problem in Alabama. The last section of this Note contains a summary and conclusion.


A. The Problem: Wrongful Conviction

Across the nation, courts and legislatures are slowly reacting to advances in science and technology. One of the most important advances to affect criminal law was the advent of DNA technology. (6) Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) technology, first introduced in American courts in 1986, is now recognized in all jurisdictions in the country. (7) In the past 23 years, evidence from DNA testing has exonerated over 230 innocent people for crimes which they have been wrongly convicted. (8) Many of these cases share common themes. (9) The wrongly convicted are largely minorities who were convicted as a result of mistaken eyewitness testimony, and the majority spent more than 10 years in prison for crimes they had not committed. (10) This last fact shows that most of these convictions occurred at a time when DNA technology was either not available or not as reliable as it is today. While exonerees' stories may differ in many ways, one thing is certain: without access to post-conviction DNA testing, they would likely still be in prison. (11)

The need for a procedure to request post-conviction DNA testing is vital to ensure that only those who belong in prison remain there. Most people believe that those in prison deserve to be incarcerated. While this is usually a correct assessment, it does not hold true in every situation. Sometimes the legal system simply fails to work. People run the system, and people are imperfect. The system itself, therefore, is imperfect.

Science now provides a remedy for some of these imperfections. …

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