Last year, Alabama quietly passed HB 494. States pass bills all the time; bills to fix roads, or add some bigwig’s name to a library, or allocate funds for projects. In this case, HB 494 gives a free lawyer to fetuses. While actual people in Alabama may find themselves unable to afford an attorney, fetuses get one for free. Fetuses can’t testify on their own behalf, they can’t even participate in their own defense, but they get a lawyer for free. On the taxpayer’s dime. Seriously.
Because nothing says smaller government like forcing the citizens of a red state to pay for a lawyer to represent a fetus. But not just any fetus can avail itself of free legal representation, and no, it’s not just the white ones (shame on you/me/mostly me). The free fetus lawyer is only available to minors seeking an abortion, because-and this is language from the actual bill:
The Legislature finds as fact that: (1) immature minors often lack the ability to make fully informed choices that take account of both immediate and long-range consequences
So this is all about life. Protecting life, cherishing life, and defending a vulnerable
voting block demographic future member of the military. Which might seem rational, until you take a look at the people Alabama has recently executed. A quick Google revealed a disturbing trend in the Alabama legal system, one that might make this whole protect the most vulnerable mantra a little hard to believe. Equal Justice Initiative, a group that provides “legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system,” has a list of executions carried out in Alabama, which, given the state’s new-found love of protecting the vulnerable, and providing free lawyers to those who cannot afford one, may come off as slightly hypocritical.
Here’s a brief summary of some of the dead, along with notes on the cases from EJI.
*Andrew Lackey was a young man on Alabama’s death row who suffered from mental illness his entire life. He was executed on July 25, 2013, even though no state or federal court had completed appellate review in the case to determine whether his trial was fair or his sentence appropriate.
Mr. Lackey was sentenced to death in the tragic killing of Charles Newman in 2005, when Mr. Lackey was 22 years old. Mr. Lackey attempted suicide while on death row, saying that his “mind has started to break down,” and that he was in an “infinite loop where he sees the end as the beginning.” After his failed suicide attempt, Mr. Lackey’s suffering led him to ask the State of Alabama to execute him.
Despite the extensive evidence of serious mental illness, however, the trial judge refused to order an expert competency evaluation of Mr. Lackey, failed to inquire about which psychotropic medications he is taking and how they affect his mental state, and did not even ask state officials what mental illness they had diagnosed Mr. Lackey as suffering from.
*Christopher Johnson was executed on October 20, 2011, despite serious questions about his mental competency, the fairness of his trial, and the lack of meaningful appellate review.
Mr. Johnson was convicted of killing his infant son in 2005. His attorneys attempted to present a defense of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, but mid-way through his trial, Mr. Johnson asked the trial judge for permission to represent himself. Despite Mr. Johnson’s history of mental illness, the judge allowed him to represent himself. While doing so, Mr. Johnson asked the jury and judge to sentence him to death.
At his sentencing hearing, the judge found that Mr. Johnson was placed in numerous psychiatric hospitals throughout his childhood and was prescribed anti-psychotic medications. He also exhibited behavior associated with mental illness: while awaiting trial, he refused to bathe, slammed his head against the wall of his cell, and attempted suicide by eating toilet paper. Despite this evidence, the trial judge sentenced Mr. Johnson to death.
*Eddie Powell was executed on June 16, 2011, despite credible evidence that he was mentally retarded.
Eddie Powell was sentenced to death in 1995. In 2002, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that it is unconstitutional to execute people with mental retardation. Mr. Powell may be the first person executed in Alabama since Atkins where there is credible evidence of mental retardation but the death row prisoner nonetheless was denied an evidentiary hearing in any court.
Eddie Powell was diagnosed with mental retardation in the fifth grade and placed in special education classes, where he worked hard but could not keep up with other students, and functioned at only a third-grade level in the seventh grade.
*Glenn Boyd was executed on March 31, 2011, even though his jury decided that the death penalty was not appropriate in his case and that he should be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. The jury’s life verdict was overruled by a judge who at the time of the trial and sentencing was committing crimes and was later shamed into resigning under threat of prosecution.
Mr. Boyd was too poor to hire a lawyer to represent him at trial. His appointed counsel had never been involved in a death penalty case and did not get paid for more than 50 hours of work out-of-court. Mr. Boyd’s lawyers did not investigate reasons to spare their client’s life or inquire into his background. As a result, Mr. Boyd’s jury heard no evidence about the pervasive abuse, familial violence and alcoholism, and neglect he endured as a child and teenager. A federal judge concluded that Mr. Boyd was entitled to a new sentencing trial due to ineffective assistance of counsel but the Court of Appeals reversed the grant of relief.
Alabama has no interest whatsoever in protecting life, or defending vulnerable members of society. HB 494 is simply another way for a political party that claims to hate big government to impose big government on young women seeking a legal abortion. Oh, and did you know Alabama’s broke?
If this has depressed you, join the club, and watch Jessica Williams of The Daily Show try to understand why a fetus needs an attorney.