Ala. bill would make killing EMTs, responders a capital offense

Under current state law, killing a non-law enforcement first responder only exposes suspects to murder charges and not the death penalty

By Ben Bullard
The Cullman Times

CULLMAN, Ala. — A locally-sponsored bill could see EMTs, volunteer firefighters and other first responders covered under the same Alabama law that currently makes the murder of a police officer in the line of duty a capital offense.

Rep. Corey Harbison [R-Good Hope] is sponsoring the bill, which he plans to introduce for the 2017 legislative session. Rep. Randall Shedd [R-Fairview] also supports the measure, and will be a co-sponsor.

Under current Alabama law, killing a deputy or police officer who responds at the scene of a call can open the suspect to prosecution and sentencing up to and including the death penalty. But taking the life of a paramedic, firefighter or other non-law enforcement first responder exposes a suspect only to a simple murder charge.

Harbison, himself a former Cullman County sheriff’s deputy, said the bill is intended to extend an additional measure of protection for workers who enter unknown and often dangerous situations when called to an emerging event.

“There are several times when I was a deputy when the EMTs would arrive before me or anybody else at a scene, and they don’t have any way of knowing what they’re walking into,” he said.

“I think we need to step up to protect our first responders; people who are serving and protecting us every day. All first responders’ lives are equally valuable, and this bill, which would amend the capital offense law, would address that.”

An early draft of the bill is undergoing revision through the Alabama Legislative Reference Service in order to refine the definition of various response workers’ job descriptions — a step Harbison said is vital to ensuring that everyone who’s eligible for the bill’s protection will indeed be covered.

“They need to make some changes to the initial draft, because it was too broad and leaves too much open to interpretation,” he said. “I want us to define exactly who a ‘first responder’ is before I file it. Hopefully, I’ll have a draft ready to look at in the next couple of weeks.

“We want to include anyone who’s considered a first responder at the scene of any accident or developing situation — really any law enforcement call, from a car reck to a fire to a shooting to a possible suicide. Calls come in with limited information about what’s really happening at a scene, and when responders arrive, what they find can be very different from what little information they’re given when they’re going in.”

Copryright 2016 The Cullman Times

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