Death Penalty In Texas Essay

1928 words - 8 pages

There are many legal and cultural explanations for why Texas executes far more people than any other state and is doing so at a pace that has no parallel in the modern era of the death penalty in the U.S. What follows is a summary of the analyses.

Texas has become ground zero for capital punishment. Between 1976 (when the Supreme Court lifted its prohibition on the death penalty) and 1998 Texas executed 167 people. Next in rank was Virginia which executed 60 during the same period.

(**my note** as of today, Texas has executed 237 individuals, and Virginia has executed 80)

Why do capital murder cases proceed through the Texas state court system with a speed unimaginable in other ...view middle of the document...

Only a few judges during the past decade have been capable of or willing to write thoughtful, scholarly decisions, whether granting or denying relief."

Additionally, Newton notes that these judges tend to dismiss habeas corpus appeals even in cases where there appears to be glaring unanswered questions about the defendant's guilt.

2. Texas does not have a public defender system for indigent defendants, and instead relies upon court-appointed lawyers who likely do not have experience in capital murder defenses or appeals. Newton notes that incompetent defenses in capital murder cases are legion in Texas, and that, even in a death penalty appeal, bad lawyering is hard to prove. One decision, which turned down a defendant's habeas appeal due to bad lawyering, concluded that "[t]he Constitution does not say that the lawyer has to be awake" during trial proceedings. Furthermore, Texas was not obliged to provide lawyers free of charge to post-conviction habeas appeals until September 1, 1995, and the amount the state is willing to pay lawyers for these appeals is sufficiently low that most defendants still do not receive counsel for their appeals.

3. Until the early 1990s, Texas did not permit jurors to adequately consider mitigating evidence in the sentencing phase of a trial. Thus, there are a number of people currently on death row that may well not be there had information about their mental illness or youth been weighed.

In addition, some other features of the Texas judicial system streamline the process between conviction and execution for death row inmates.

Texas gives the bulk of clemency power to its Board of Pardons and Paroles and not to the governor. Indeed, the Board must vote to recommend commutation in order for the governor to grant clemency. Stephen E. Silverman examined the impact of this procedure on the frequency of executions. In a law review note, entitled "There is Nothing Certain Like Death in Texas: State Executive Clemency Boards Turn a Deaf Ear to Death Inmates' Last Appeals,"2Silverman argues that the Supreme Court appears to affirm the constitutionality of curtailing repeated habeas appeals in part because of the existence of executive clemency. However, the Governor of Texas' inability to grant clemency himself is an unconsidered loophole in the procedural safeguards that the Court cited in its argument. In other words, Texas--as well as eleven other states--can execute inmates who might have been granted executive clemency had the governor had the power to do so. Silverman thus concludes that "[t]he assertion by three Justices of the United States Supreme Court that state clemency procedures adequately protect against executing those later able to make convincing claims of innocence may not be accurate. Even though only twelve states that provide for the death penalty require some sort of panel decision to grant clemency, these tend to be states with the most aggressively enforced capital murder laws. The...

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