Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is calling attention to an Alabama law that allows judges to impose death sentences after juries have voted to send defendants to prison for life.
Sotomayor and Justice Stephen Breyer were the only two justices who voted Monday to hear an appeal from a death row inmate who was convicted of killing a Montgomery, Ala., police officer. Sotomayor took the unusual step of issuing a dissent from the court's order rejecting the appeal of defendant Mario Woodward.
The justice said that Alabama trial judges are elected in partisan proceedings and appear to have "succumbed to electoral pressures."
The jury voted 8-4 to send Woodward to prison for life. The trial judge sentenced him to death instead.