Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery is challenging a recent ruling that overturned a death row inmate’s sentence just months before his execution. Slatery thinks Nashville’s district attorney overstepped when he offered the deal last month.
His appeal calls into question who has the final say in criminal cases.
The ruling was already out-of-the-ordinary. Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman, who’d been sentenced to death on a first-degree murder conviction more than three decades ago, was spared execution. Now, his lawyer, Bradley MacLean, says the attorney general is entering even farther into unchartered territory.
“I think that by trying to undermine the authority of the district attorney, that upsets the constitutional balance of power between the attorney general’s office and the district attorney’s office,” MacLean says. “And it’s unprecedented.”
The attorney general says District Attorney Glenn Funk’s deal – which exchanged Abdur’Rahman’s death sentence for life in prison – “uproots” normal legal procedures. Funk, however, says he stands by his offer. He believes Abdur’Rahman’s original sentence should be thrown out, because the trial prosecutor discriminated against potential jurors who were black.
Last month, Funk offered Abdur’Rahman a new sentence of life imprisonment, on the condition that he not file any future appeals. Both Abdur’Rahman and a judge signed off on the deal.
But in a motion filed Friday, Attorney General Herbert Slatery challenged the ruling, saying that neither the court nor the district attorney had the authority to make the offer in the first place.
“The public has put a special trust in this office to help preserve the integrity of the criminal justice system,” Slatery said in a statement. “This order uproots decades of established legal procedures and lacks any legal justification.”
MacLean’s lawyer says he will “vigorously oppose” the attorney general’s appeal.
“The stakes are as great as they can be,” he says. “It’s a person’s life that is at stake.”
In the meantime, Abdur’Rahman remains on death row. While the dispute plays out in court, his April execution date still looms in the not-so-distant-future.
This post was updated at 5:53 p.m.
Samantha Max is a
Report for America corps member.