Aniah’s Law passed through the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday with a unanimous vote of 101-0 (per WBRC). The bill, named for Aniah Blanchard—the late stepdaughter of UFC heavyweight Walt Harris, will now head to the Alabama Senate. If Senators approve the bill it will become State Law.
If passed, the law would give judges more power to deny bail for people charged with serious crimes. Alabama’s constitution currently states that judges can only deny bail for people charged with capital murder.
Aniah’s Law would make an amendment to the constitution and add first-degree assault, rape, first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary and aggravated child abuse as crimes for which a judge can deny bail.
The motivation for this bill is the disappearance and death of Aniah Blanchard. Prosecutors claim Ibraheem Yazeed abducted Blanchard from a convenience store parking lot on October 23, 2019.
Blanchard was reported missing the next day, leading to appeals from Harris and the UFC for information regarding her whereabouts. The UFC, and other figures in the MMA world, helped contribute to a reward fund that eventually exceeded $100,000.
In November Yazeed was apprehended by U.S. Marshals and was charged with first-degree kidnapping and murder. Blanchard’s remains were found soon after.
At the time of Blanchard’s killing, Yazeed was awaiting trial for unrelated kidnapping and attempted murder charges. Those charges were laid against Yazeed in January 2019 after he was accused of holding two individuals, including a 77-year-old man, against their will inside a hotel room and beating the older man until he was severely injured and near death.
Since Yazeed was not charged with capital crimes in this earlier incident the judge had no grounds to deny him bail. He was released from custody on a $280,000 bond.
Yazeed is currently being held without bond as he awaits trial for both incidents. If convicted of murdering Blanchard Yazeed could receive the death penalty.
Aniah’s Law is supported by Harris and Blanchard’s mother Angela Hailey-Harris.
Hailey-Harris has publicly campaigned for the law, saying, “My mission now is to save the world that is how I feel. I know I can’t save the world, but I’m gonna try. Aniah’s Law is one of the most amazing things. Our state needs it so bad. It will keep violent offenders from being out on the street out on bond.”
The Alabama branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has expressed concerns over Aniah’s Law. The ACLU writes that “if enacted, [the bill] would result in significantly widening Alabama’s detention net.”
The ACLU has also pointed out that the law would give judges the power to deny bail to people who the court believes may not appear for a court date, may participate in witness tampering or be at risk to the community at large.
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