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Aniah’s Law, named for Walt Harris’ late daughter, headed to a public vote

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The Alabama legislature gave final approval to the law that would give judges more power to deny bail.

UFC Fight Night: Alistair Overeem v Walt Harris
Walt Harris before he faced Alistair Overeem at a UFC Fight Night in 2020.
Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

House Bill 131, aka Aniah’s Law, has passed its final hurdle in the Alabama state legislature. The proposed law, named for the late daughter of UFC heavyweight Walt Harris, will now go to a public vote.

After passing the a state Senate vote the law had been sent back to the House of Representatives for a vote on changes to the text of the law. The House vote succeeded and now the bill will face a public ballot, likely in 2022. Because the law represents a constitutional amendment it does not require assent from the sitting Governor.

If the bill is ratified by voters judges in Alabama will be given more power to deny bail to people accused of various crimes. Currently the state’s constitution states that everyone has a right to bail except those accused of capital crimes (crimes which carry the possibility of the death penalty).

The amendment would make it so judges are permitted to hold individuals without bail if they have been accused of capital murder, murder, kidnapping in the first degree, sexual torture, domestic violence in the first degree, human trafficking in the first degree, robbery in the first degree, terrorism when the specified offence is a Class A felony other than murder, and aggravated child abuse of a child under the age of six.

The law is informally named for Aniah Blanchard, who was abducted and murdered in October 2019. She was 19-years-old. Ibraheem Yazeed has been charged with her homicide and is now awaiting trial. If found guilty he faces the possibility of the death sentence.

When Yazeed was arrested for Blanchard’s killing he was out on bail for an unrelated crime. In January 2019 Yazeed was charged with kidnapping and attempted murder after an alleged incident in which an elderly man was held against his will in a hotel room and severely beaten.

Those crimes did not carry a potential capital sentence so Yazeed was released from custody on a $280,000 bond. Aniah’s Law would have made it legal for Yazeed to be held indefinitely while he awaited trial.

Harris and his family campaigned for this change to the constitution. “This wasn’t just about Aniah or for Aniah,” Harris said (per WBRC). “This was for everyone. I can’t even tell you how happy I am knowing that my daughter gave her life for this.”

“I’m sure there are judges out there that are like ‘hey this person should not have a bond, but I don’t have any laws that say that’s ok for me to do,’” Harris continued. “It’s for someone that everyone clearly knows this person should not be out of the street because they are going to re-offend. They are going to re-offend or they have committed such a violent crime, they just shouldn’t be out.”

Harris also told WBRC that he will be working hard to convince voters to vote yes on Aniah’s Law whenever the ballot measure comes around.

“That is my mission now,” he said. “To make sure everyone knows that when they are going to vote, it is on the ballot. I don’t think I will ever feel like I can breathe again, but at least I will feel like my daughter didn’t die for nothing. That she gave her life to save other lives.”

The Alabama chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has expressed concerns about the bill. The ACLU has warned that, if enacted, the bill “would result in significantly widening Alabama’s detention net.”

According to Prison Policy Initiative Alabama has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world with 946 per 100,000 people being held in prisons, jails, immigration detention centers and juvenile justice facilities. This number is far higher than the overall incarceration rate of the US (698) and any other nation state in the world. The non-US states with the highest incarceration rates are El Salvador (614), Turkmenistan (583) and Cuba (510).