Texas House to Debate Life Without Parole Option

The Texas House will consider S. 60 this week, already passed the state Senate, to change Texas law so that juries would have the option of sentencing capital defendants to life without the possibility of parole. Currently, the only options for Texas juries in capital cases are death and life with parole after 40 years.

Life without parole is an option in every state except Texas and New Mexico. Houston County D.A. Chuck Rosenthal opposes the bill. The disadvantage of the bill is that it does away with the life with parole option in all cases. Particularly in juvenile cases, this should remain an option. However, TalkLeft supports the bill because jurors may be more likely to vote against death if they know the killer will never leave prison.

As we reported here, a recent report by the NAACP Legal Defense fund shows that death sentences continue to decline and are at the lowest level since 1976 - even in Texas. Except for Rosenthal's Harris County (Houston):

One place where the climate may have changed little, if at all, is Harris County. Local prosecutors and juries sent 10 men to death row in 2004 (two more than in 2003 and four more than in 2002), more than any state, save California and the rest of Texas. It remains the nation's capital of capital punishment. (emphasis supplied.)

Our prior post on the Texas bill is here. Editorials supporting the bill are here and here. If you really want to know what reforms are needed in Texas, check out the recent report by Texas Defender Services, Minimizing Risk: Blueprint for Death Penalty Reform in Texas. (pdf) The recommended reforms are on page 127 (of the pdf document, p. 145 of the report.)

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