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What is the capital punishment in texas -
A letter to the editor from 1930.
Sir: If as proposal should be made that any state of out Union could put to death a horse thief or automobile thief, it would meet with ridicule. And yet Texas has recently enacted a law which permits the execution of bank robbers, and was to have electrocuted E. V. Allen in January. It will put him to death in March unless something is done about it.
Allen was convicted and sentenced to death for a bank robbery on December 13, 1927, where no shots were fired, no one was killed and no money was lost. A Massachusetts woman saw an item in the Boston paper and aroused an organization to employ a Texas lawyer, thus obtaining two stays of execution. Governor Moody and Judge Been do not appear impressed by the appeal for clemency on the part of eleven jurors who convicted Allen on unconvincing identification.
According to the American League to Abolish Capital Punishment, criminals may be legally executed in seven states for burglary, in seventeen states for rape, in two states for train wrecking, in six states for arson and in ten states for treason, though no executions have been inflicted for the last offense. So far as I have heard, no state inflicts the death penalty for subscribing to The New Republic.
You asked us to compare the cost of a capital case involving the death penalty in Texas with one in Connecticut.
We were unable to find comprehensive cost data specific to death penalty cases. According to several criminal justice officials in Texas and Connecticut, neither state compiles statistics on the cost of capital punishment on a per case basis. Further, Connecticut has not executed a prisoner since 1961 and none of the seven death row inmates' cases has reached final state and federal habeas levels. Therefore, complete data for calculating the final cost for any Connecticut death row case are not available. (State habeas challenges the legality of imprisonment after conviction in state court; federal habeas challenges the legality of imprisonment in federal court.)
The only readily available costs are for incarceration. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the approximate cost of housing a male death row inmate at the Ellis Unit in Huntsville is $48.45 per day ($17,684.25 per year or $183,739.36 based on an average10.39 years spent on death row).
According to the Connecticut Department of Correction, it costs $158.71 per day ($57,929.15 per year) to house a prisoner at the Northern Corrections facility (which houses all of the state's death row inmates and prisoners with a Level 5 classification). For fiscal year (FY) 1999-00, it will cost $405,504.05 to house all seven death row inmates.
The higher cost in Connecticut is attributable to a higher guard-to- prisoner ratio and the fact that death row inmates in Texas are securely confined to single cells for 23 hours a day.
CALCULATING THE COST OF CAPITAL CASES
There are several problems involved in trying to determine the cost of a capital case. First, there is a wide variety of costs associated with capital cases. These include costs for prosecuting and defense attorneys, interpreters, expert witnesses, court reporters, psychiatrists, secretaries, and jury consultants.
Another problem is the length and complexity of the process. Cases tend to last several years and can pass through three possible phases. The first phase includes state trial court (two trials-one to determine guilt, the other for sentence), state Supreme Court, and possible appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. The second phase is the state habeas corpus (post-conviction process) and appeals. The final phase is federal habeas corpus, which includes appeals to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and to the U.S. Supreme Court. Michael Ross was originally sentenced to death in July 1987. His case is at the first phase state Supreme Court level. (For additional information on the Connecticut death penalty appeals process, see enclosed OLR Report 2000-R-0146.)
A third problem is the way states budget money for entities that are involved with capital cases. For example, Texas and Connecticut allocate specific sums to their judicial departments. It is difficult to separate the costs each department incurs for capital cases from those for other cases.
From a data-gathering standpoint, Texas presents yet another problem. Each county (there are 254) must bear the costs of its capital cases. It is extremely difficult to get data from the counties. Dallas is the only county from which we received partial data, and we were unable to determine whether they are representative of other counties.
For all of the above reasons, the only information we were able to gather is fragmentary.
TRIAL AND APPELLATE COSTS
The Dallas District Attorney's Office estimates that it will spend $410,000 on capital case trials during FY 1999-00. The figure covers salaries for five full-time attorneys who spend half of their time working on capital punishment cases, three full-time investigators, and one full-time deputy chief who also spends half of his time on these cases.
The office estimates the cost of prosecuting appeals at $275,000 for the same period. The costs include professional services such as interpreters' fees, expert witnesses, and court reporters. Other appellate costs are not available.
We were unable to get information on defense costs.
Chief State's Attorney Office. The chief state's attorney office has not compiled any recent data on individual capital cases. But in FY 1998-99, it spent $333,000 on capital cases. These costs included two attorneys assigned to appellate capital cases who received salaries totaling $150,000. And the office spent $238,000 for a jury consultant's report showing jury membership to reflect that of Connecticut communities. Certain costs, such as those for expert witnesses and court reporters (among other things) are not available.
Chief Public Defender's Office. The chief public defender's office has not compiled any recent data on individual capital cases. But between 1984 to 1989, it incurred $341,556 in costs on the Michael Ross case, as follows: legal services, $252,467; investigative services, $10,913; psychiatric and psychological services, $48,868; transcripts, $18,981; and miscellaneous costs, $10,327. (Attachment 1 provides details on this case and four others on death row in 1989.)
In FY 1998-99, the annual cost to operate the office's Capital Defense and Trial Services Unit, which concentrates solely on death penalty cases, was $906,000. The unit employs five attorneys, three investigators, a social worker, and two secretaries. An additional $1,511,000 (6% of the office's FY 1998-99 total budget) was spent on expert witnesses and field work for the trials and appeals. These costs do not include expenses associated with the appointment of special public defenders or the proportionality review process.
In 1992, the Chief Public Defender's Office reported that it had incurred an estimated $348,000 in defense costs (excluding secretarial and clerical expenses) for the four Connecticut inmates who were being tried for capital cases (Table 1).
Table 1: Capital Case Defense Costs for Four Connecticut Inmates in 1992
Source: Division of Public Defender Services 1992 memo
*Does not include secretarial or clerical expenses.
**Still on death row as of April 10, 2000.
Neither Texas nor Connecticut courts separate capital case costs from other case costs. Thus, costs in this section are for both capital and other cases.
According to the Court of Criminal Appeals for FY 1999-00, the estimated cost for all appellate court operations is $3,823,000. Judicial and court personnel training costs are estimated at $4,027,500.
For the same period, Texas has earmarked $4 million or $25,000 per capital case, for judges to use when trying capital cases at the state habeas level. No information is available on the cost of federal habeas cases.
Table 2 shows $6,887,403 in FY 1999-00 expenditures relating to the appellate system. In addition, the state estimates it will spend $694,229 for judicial and court personnel training costs.
Table 2: General Fund Expenditures to the Appellate System FY 1999-00*
Source: Judicial Branch
*Includes capital and noncapital cases
DEFENSE AND PROSECUTION HABEAS LEVEL COSTS
Texas: Defense and Prosecution
Texas will pay up to $25,000 in defense costs for each capital case at the state habeas level and another $25,000 for federal habeas levels. Any cost in addition to the $25,000 cap at either of these levels is absorbed by the county where the crime occurred.
For prosecution, the state will also pay up to $25,000 per case at the state habeas level, with any additional costs absorbed by the county.
At the federal habeas level, the Capital Litigation Division (part of the Attorney General's office) solely prosecutes capital punishment cases. Currently, there are eight attorneys in this division and their combined salaries total $487,330. But two additional attorney positions are vacant.
None of the seven capital cases has reached state or federal habeas levels.
Since the reinstatement of the death penalty, Texas has used lethal injection as the form of execution. The cost of drugs used in these executions is $86.08 per execution.
P.A. 95-16 replaced the electric chair with lethal injection as the form of execution in Connecticut. The state has not executed anyone using this method and no cost estimates are available.
*Does not include secretarial or clerical expenses.
**Of these five, only Ross received a death sentence. As of April 10, 2000, he is still on death row.
There was a time in Texas — a long, long time — when it was political malpractice for candidates to declare anything other than unflinching fealty to the death penalty.
I recalled that era this week as the Texas House took a significant, if less than sweeping, step in a direction that once might have been scorned by some as soft on crime because it would reduce the pool of miscreants eligible for execution.
Anyone else remember the 1990 Democratic gubernatorial primary when Ann Richards, Mark White and Jim Mattox each sought to be the staunchest supporter of capital punishment?
"As governor, I made sure they received the ultimate punishment, death. And Texas is a safer place for it," White, who later in life opposed the death penalty, said on a TV ad, standing in front of photos of men executed during his 1985 to 1989 gubernatorial stint. "Only a governor can make executions happen. I did, and I will.”
That ad came after Mattox aired a spot in which he took credit for 32 executions during his stint as attorney general. Richards, despite citing Biblical admonitions against killing, said the death penalty was the law of the land and she expressed no interest in doing anything about that.
More: Texas court rejects death sentence in intellectual disability case
And those were Democrats. You know the GOP mantra on the death penalty. The current state party platform says, “Properly applied capital punishment is legitimate and should be reasonably swift, while respecting all due process.” The Texas Democratic platform says, “Abolish the death penalty.”
But there on the House floor on Tuesday and Wednesday was Rep. Jeff Leach, a Republican from very Republican Plano, pushing a bill to eliminate some criminals who now can get the death penalty.
Let’s nod here to the truth that, on the GOP side, there’s been a long-standing dissonance, perceived and real, between opposition to abortion and support for the death penalty. If all life is sacred, why is it OK to snuff some out? You have your own thoughts on that.
Due to the serendipity of legislative agenda coincidence, abortion and the death penalty converged on the House floor this week.On Wednesday, the House gave final approval to the Leach bill on the death penalty a few hours prior to debating a Senate OK’d measure banning abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy.
Leach, a board member of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, won overwhelming bipartisan House support for his HB 1340 which, if backed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, could be seen as the biggest change in Texas’ capital punishment law since the 2005 measure that added life without parole as a sentencing option.
The Leach bill narrows the state’s “law of parties,” as in the parties to a crime. Under that long-standing law, an accomplice — perhaps a getaway driver not at the immediate scene of a killing — can be sentenced to death even if he or she did not know or expect another party to the crime was going to kill somebody. It’s a law that always makes me think back to Doyle Skillern and Charles Sanne, both convicted in the 1974 slaying of Texas Department of Public Safety undercover narcotics officer Patrick Randel in Aransas County.
Sanne fired six shots that killed Randel, who was in a car with him. Skillern was in another vehicle nearby and was in on the planned robbery that turned into unplanned murder. Under the law of parties, non-gunman Skillern was executed in 1985. Gunman Sanne also was sentenced to death, but that was reduced by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to life in prison in 1980. And that’s where he died in April 2018.
You have your own thoughts on which man suffered the more severe punishment.
There have been more cases like this. Leach mentioned Jeff Wood, who had written to him about his situation. Wood was sentenced to die after Daniel Reneau killed a store clerk while Wood, an accomplice, waited outside in a planned 1996 robbery in Kerrville.
Leach: “Mr. Wood was expecting to be the getaway driver for what was going to be the robbery of a convenience store. Little did he know that his friend who sat in the passenger seat actually had a gun … in his pocket. The crime went wrong. The clerk fought back, and his friend Mr. Renaud, who has since been executed by the state, shot and killed the clerk.”
Reneau was executed in 2002. Wood is still on Death Row. Leach’s bill would make accomplices like Wood ineligible for the death penalty. And an amendment added by bill co-sponsor Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston and a longtime death penalty opponent, would require the Board of Pardons and Paroles to review the cases of current accomplices on Death Row.
Under the bill, a co-conspirator in a capital murder case could be sentenced to death only if, according to the bill analysis, “the conspirator is a major participant in the conspiracy; in attempting to carry out the conspiracy, the conspirator acts with reckless indifference to human life; and the capital murder was committed in furtherance of an unlawful purpose.”
More: Death row inmate Rodney Reed’s appeal hearing rescheduled for July in Bastrop County district court
And while Leach’s bill does a very specific thing about one very specific part of Texas’ capital punishment law, his most striking words were about the overall concept.
“Members,” he told colleagues Tuesday, “we will make sure that any Texan that receives the ultimate punishment imposed by the state of Texas, of course, sentenced by a jury of his or her peers, actually committed a crime deserving of the ultimate punishment.
“And members, no matter where you stand on the death penalty, this is an issue that, as I mentioned, we've got to take seriously. We should take seriously. And I'm hopeful that this bill will actually lead to a broader, deeper conversation about the very existence of the death penalty in Texas,” he said.
Repeating for emphasis here. A Texas GOP lawmaker with solid conservative cred is calling for “a broader, deeper conversation about the very existence of the death penalty.” At this point, however, I can’t recommend you hold your breath awaiting that.
“But as for the bill that's in front of you today,” Leach continued, “I am increasingly concerned that there are perhaps men on Death Row right now, as we sit here voting on the floor of the Texas House, who do not need to be there, who did not kill anybody. And who did not know anyone was going to be killed. For you lawyers, they didn't have the requisite mens rea.”
For you nonlawyer, non-Latin speakers, mens rea means guilty mind. In the justice system, it involves determining someone’s intention to commit a crime or harbor knowledge that actions taken or not taken would further the commission of a crime.
Leach on Tuesday told House colleagues about an Arkansas case (he mistakenly said Oklahoma) in which recently revealed new DNA evidence casts serious doubt on a conviction that led to a death sentence ordered for Ledell Lee in a 1993 murder.
Lee was executed in 2017.
"That should keep us up at night," Leach said.
He wrapped up on Tuesday with this reference to the abortion restriction bill, of which he is a co-sponsor, that was on the House agenda Wednesday:
“Members, in closing, I want to challenge you as your friend and your colleague. And I specifically want to talk to my Republican counterparts, especially those who are going to be voting on pro-life bills as early as tomorrow. It is our obligation, members, it is our obligation as legislators, as Texans — and for those of us who pride ourselves on doing everything we can to protect innocent life — I encourage you and implore you to think deeply about the death penalty in Texas.”
More: US Supreme Court orders review of Texas ban on clergy at executions
The bill won 140-5 preliminary approval Tuesday, and Wednesday’s 135-6 final vote sent it to the Senate.
"It's always right to fight and stand up for innocent life," Leach, a co-sponsor of the abortion restriction bill scheduled for Wednesday action in the House, said prior to the final vote.
As noted above, the Leach bill would make a very specific — though meaningful — change in the death penalty law. His heartfelt call for a broader discussion might be the most important thing here.
Many Texans favor the death penalty. Many oppose it on moral grounds. I can’t even get to the moral question. I stop at what all must acknowledge as a sad truth.
The death penalty, once carried out, is an irreversible action produced by fallible humans operating in an imperfect judicial system.
by Matt Clarke
In April 2017, the University of Texas School of Law’s Human Rights Clinic published a report that found living conditions on death row in Texas violate “basic human rights as well as a number of international treaties that were voluntarily ratified by the U.S. and which are binding on Texas.”
Because the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) refused to allow interviews with death row prisoners, the Clinic had to gather information from them via questionnaires. Researchers did conduct interviews with former condemned prisoners who had been exonerated and released, or had been moved to the prison system’s general population following a successful appeal of their capital sentence. The Clinic also interviewed death penalty advocates and capital punishment attorneys.
By policy, Texas death row prisoners are subjected to solitary confinement conditions and locked in 8-by-12-foot cells for 23 hours a day with one hour for recreation in a slightly larger, unfurnished cell. In practice, exercise is only permitted two-to-four times a week, not seven as required by policy. When they go to recreation and at all other times, condemned prisoners are kept isolated from other prisoners; they are served meals in their cells and shower alone. They have virtually no opportunity to interact – much less converse – with other human beings.
Texas death row prisoners are not allowed to watch television or use a phone (except for calls from their attorneys). They may purchase an overpriced, poor-quality radio from the prison commissary, but it can be confiscated for even minor disciplinary infractions and some TDCJ guards write disciplinary reports for the most insignificant of reasons.
Prisoners on death row are not allowed contact visits with friends and family even when their execution is imminent. The only religious materials provided by the prison chaplain is the Bible, and religious volunteers and volunteer chaplains are rarely permitted to meet with prisoners due to alleged staffing shortages that make escort guards unavailable.
Even attorney visits on death row are not contact visits, and generally not even private due to the availability of only one private visitation cubicle. This means that lawyers must often discuss privileged legal information with their clients within earshot of other people.
Texas’ death row was not always like this. Prior to the attempted escape of seven condemned prisoners from the Ellis Unit in November 1998 – one of whom made it over the fence only to be found dead a few days later [see: PLN, April 1999, p.13] – death row prisoners were allowed to work, eat and take classes along with general population prisoners, and to have recreation with each other. In 1999, death row was moved to the more modern Polunsky Unit and, according to exonerated death row prisoner Anthony Graves, it “became a rights-free zone” that was “terrible and absolutely inhumane.”
Conditions became so onerous that over 10% of prisoners executed since then “volunteered” for lethal injection by dropping all of their appeals. They chose execution over life on death row in Texas.
The 48-page report by the Human Rights Clinic also noted that medical care is difficult to obtain on death row while mental health treatment is virtually nonexistent. Initial access to such care is controlled by guards, who frequently “forget” to forward requests for medical services to the medical department. Even if they are forwarded, responses often take days and health care providers may be disinterested in the health needs of men who will likely be executed anyway.
Mental health care is even worse, with “treatment” limited to prisoners taking psychotropic medications that induce sleepiness. One death row prisoner said prison staff tried to get him to sleep until he was executed. Psychiatric interviews are conducted on the cell block within hearing of other prisoners – a barrier to effective treatment.
Unsurprisingly, the stress of awaiting execution causes mental health issues for many condemned prisoners, some of whom had diagnosed mental illnesses prior to their incarceration. This stress is exacerbated by Texas’ practice of scheduling execution dates before all avenues of appeal have been exhausted. Thus, a prisoner may be scheduled for execution only to receive a last-minute stay a half-dozen times before being put to death or otherwise removed from death row. These are effectively “mock executions,” which cause post-traumatic stress disorder that continues to affect even exonerated prisoners, according to the report.
The Human Rights Clinic also stated that long-term segregation on death row without the ability to interact with others violates the UN’s Convention Against Torture, the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The physical isolation and other conditions on Texas’ death row have been criticized by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and several UN committees and Special Rapporteurs. Nonetheless, condemned prisoners continue to endure inhumane conditions.
“Offenders on death row are individuals who have been convicted of heinous crimes and given the harshest sentence possible under the law,” said TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark. “TDCJ will continue to ensure it fulfills its mission of public safety and house death row offenders appropriately.”
He did not address the fact that 13 death row prisoners in Texas have been exonerated and released from 1987 to 2015, despite receiving the state’s harshest sentence.
Sources: “Designed to Break You: Human Rights Violations on Texas’ Death Row,” University of Texas School of Law, Human Rights Clinic (April 2017); www.mystatesman.com
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A look at capital punishment in Texas
The history of death row in Texas includes some interesting data, since this state has executed more inmates than any other place in the country.
"When capital punishment was declared 'cruel and unusual punishment' by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 29, 1972, there were 45 men on death row in Texas and seven in county jails with a death sentence," according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). "All of the sentences were commuted to life sentences by the Governor of Texas, and death row was clear by March 1973."
Although the punishment was reinstated in 1973, when a "revision to the Texas Penal Code once again allowed assessment of the death penalty and allowed for executions to resume effective January 1, 1974."
The first inmate sentenced to death following that revision, John Devries, did not last long on death row, since he committed suicide by hanging himself with bed sheets just five months after his sentence.
While capital punishment has seen lengthy litigation, as well as efforts to fight it by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, it endures in Texas.
The only major reform was in 1977, when The State of Texas adopted lethal injection as means of execution.
Older history and current statistics of this particular sanction reveals a number of interesting facts. See the slides above for a look at the oldest and youngest inmates to be executed, as well as several other historical insights.
How Texas’ Harris County went from ‘capital of capital punishment’ to zero executions
San Antonio, Texas
From the tragedy of hurricane Harvey to the elation of the Astros’ victory in the World Series, the Houston area had an eventful 2017. But some are remembering this year as much for what didn’t happen as for what did. They are remembering it as the year Harris County, which includes much of Houston, may have finally shed its nickname as the capital of capital punishment.
In recent decades, no county has been as prolific in its application of the death penalty as Harris County. If the county were a state, only one state would have executed more people since 1976, the year capital punishment was reinstated in the US: Texas itself.
But in 2017, for the first time in more than 40 years, no one from the county was executed. No one was sentenced to death this year either – in fact, no one has been sentenced to death since 2014. There is some disagreement over precisely why both numbers hit zero this year – and it could be years before it happens again – but experts see the landmark as a symbol of shifting attitudes toward the death penalty both in Harris County and around the country.
“We’ve been experiencing a generation-long decline in the use of the death penalty [nationwide], and the numbers in Harris County reflect that,” says Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), a national nonprofit organization that analyzes capital punishment statistics and issues.
There were 23 executions in the US this year, the second lowest total since 1991, according to the DPIC’s year-end report. (Only 2016 had fewer, with 20 executions.) The group projected a total of 39 new death sentences nationwide this year, the second-lowest in more than 40 years and the seventh consecutive year with fewer than 100 new death sentences nationwide.
Lead counsel Christina Swarns (c.) for Texas death row inmate Duane Buck (not pictured) walks down the front steps of the Supreme Court in Washington on Oct. 5, 2016.
Harris County averaged 12 new death sentences a year between 1992 and 1998, but has sent only 40 people to death row since 2000, an average of about two new death sentences a year.
There is no single reason why executions and death sentences have become so rare in the county, experts say, but there are several significant ones. Perhaps none is more significant than the change in Harris County district attorney.
From 1979 to 2000 the county had one D.A., a man named Johnny Holmes. His office sentenced more than 200 people to death – a record he believed meant he was doing his job. “This is what [prosecutors] are supposed to be – zealous in seeking justice,” he told the Houston Chronicle in 2007.
His recent successors have been more selective with when they pursue capital punishment against defendants, however.
Devon Anderson, the district attorney from 2013 to 2016, said the death penalty is only appropriate “for the worst of the worst.” Last year both she and her opponent, Kim Ogg, campaigned on platforms that included a more judicious pursuit of death sentences.
Ms. Ogg, one of several reform-minded prosecutors elected as local DAs in recent years, sought the death penalty in four cases this year. All four times, the jury instead sentenced the defendant to life without parole.
“The county is not the same place that it was when I was a prosecutor in the early ’90s,” she told Houston Public Media.
Indeed, another reason there have been fewer death sentences and executions in Harris County is because the general public has become less willing to deliver death sentences.
Twenty years ago, if prosecutors had the option to pursue the death penalty but opted not to, “you’d run the risk of paying for it in the next election because people would see you as being soft on crime,” says Jeff Newberry, a lawyer who represents Texas death row inmates and supervises students at the University of Houston Law Center.
Furthermore, “once you have an office that seeks death a certain number of times, it becomes easier for them to do it over and over again,” he says, because prosecutors become more experienced working capital cases and more adept at winning them.
Death sentences started to become a tougher sell to juries in 2005, however, when Harris County introduced the option of a life without parole sentence. Only 27 percent of people in the Houston area think death, not life imprisonment, should be the penalty for first-degree murder, according to a poll last year from the Kinder Institute at Rice University. Nationwide, the DPIC year-end report found that public support for the death penalty is at its lowest point since 1972, the year the US Supreme Court found death penalty laws to be unconstitutional.
The high court reversed that decision four years later. But in 2017 it issued two decisions in cases out of Harris County that are likely to further curtail the use of capital punishment in America.
In the case of Duane Buck, the Supreme Court overturned a death sentence that had been delivered with the help of racially biased testimony. And in the case of Bobby James Moore, the court ruled that Texas used outdated standards for determining whether or not a defendant is too intellectually disabled to be executed.
Both decisions addressed “some of the most unfair death penalty practices in the country,” says Mr. Dunham.
Still, both he and Mr. Newberry will be surprised if there’s a death-penalty hiatus in Harris County again in 2018.
“I don’t think there’s going to be no new sentences or executions next year,” says Newberry, “but I don’t think it’s going back to the levels we had 15 years ago.”
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