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Lawmakers approve bill to shorten death penalty appeals

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Death row inmates would get less time to file appeals under a bill Alabama lawmakers approved Thursday in an attempt to speed up the time between sentencing and execution. Opponents argued the Fair Justice Act increased the odds that Alabama might one day execute an innocent person.

The bill goes to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature. Spokeswoman Eileen Jones said the governor will review the bill. The bill is based on Texas procedures and will require inmates to raise claims, such as ineffective counsel, at the same time as appeals over alleged trial errors.

Proponents said it would resolve appeals sooner to benefit victims' families and inmates.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall praised the legislation.

"We look forward to its enactment so that death row appeals now may proceed in a fair and efficient manner that does not prolong the suffering of victims but that provides justice to all parties," he said.

Sen. Cam Ward, the bill's sponsor, estimated that it could cut seven years or so for from the appellate timeframe.

Other lawmakers said that faster wasn't necessarily better.

"The call it the Fair Justice Act. It is neither just nor fair," said Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma. Sanders said speeding up the process means that there are inmates who "would be dead rather than determined innocent."

The change was backed by victims' advocacy groups. The American Bar Association was among the opponents.

"While the ABA respects the importance of finality and judicial efficiency, quicker resolution of cases where a life is at stake should not take priority over ensuring fundamental fairness and accuracy of those convictions," American Bar Association President Linda Klein wrote in a letter to legislative leaders.

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