Court of Criminal Appeals Reverses Repeat Offender Overreach

Repeat offender laws occupy an interesting place in the American legal system. On one hand, they serve an important role in keeping dangerous criminals off the streets. On the flip side, they can sometimes lead to harsh punishments for relatively minor offenses.

Alabama’s repeat offender law is called the Habitual Felony Offender Act. Under this law, any previous felony conviction of Class C or above will lead to a significantly longer prison sentence. The more felony convictions the person has, the harsher their sentence will generally be.

Georgia also has a repeat offender law, commonly know as the “three strikes” law. However, Georgia also has something called a First Time Offenders law. Under this law, the court has the discretion to place a first time felony offender on probation. If they complete their probation successfully, the offense is taken off their record. However, Alabama does not have a law like that of its own.

Levi Bedell was convicted of sexual abuse in 2003 and sentenced to sixteen years in prison. In 2017, he filed a petition for post-conviction relief under Rule 32 of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure. In his petition, he claimed that his sentence, which had been enhanced using the Habitual Felony Offender Act, should have not been enhanced. According to Bedell, the previous conviction used by the court to enhance his sentence had actually been forgiven under the Georgia First Offenders Act.

The trial court dismissed the petition with an order containing a single sentence. It did not give Bedell a hearing on his petition. Alabama law requires the court to give a Rule 32 petitioner an opportunity to prove their case unless their petition obviously lacks any merit and cannot be proven. Thus, Bedell appealed.

The Court of Criminal Appeals examined the case and found that Bedell had a legal basis for his petition. According to the court, Alabama law recognizes Georgia’s First Time Offenders law as legally absolving the accused of guilt for the crime. As a result, if Bedell’s claim was true his enhanced sixteen-year sentence would have been in error.

Accordingly, the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed and remanded the trial court. The trial court was instructed to give Bedell a chance to prove that his Georgia conviction fell under the Georgia First Offenders Act. If his sentence was enhanced in error, he may be leaving prison much earlier than he expected.

I find cases like this to be reassuring. There is always something nice about our appellate courts taking action to protect those who may have been wronged by the justice system. Hopefully Mr. Bedell gets the fair hearing he deserves.

If you or someone you know has been involved in a case like this and you think there may have been an error in the sentencing, you should have an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Give Joseph A. Ingram of INGRAM LAW LLC a call at 205-236-3997 for all of your
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