Death Penalty in Texas
According to the U. S. Constitution every citizen has a right for life and security. However, sometimes this right is neglected by other people who take away this life. The government is very strict with such criminals as the death sentence is one of the means of punishment for cruel deeds. Texas is one of the U. S. states where this penalty is applied. It is very complicated thing which ends up in execution. The range of factors as well as legal procedure that lead to this is discussed in the paper.
The main idea of the research is to examine the process of the death penalty in Texas from different aspects. One of the most important aspects is the position of courts, judges and defendants in this process alongside possible appeals. The introduction part outlines the notion of capital punishments, its history its existence in the state of Texas. The research proceeds in discovering the process of capital punishment from courts, appeals and lawyers. The execution day and preparations to it are described as well. At the end of the research some statistics and overturned case are presented.
The death penalty is a legal punishment presented in the juristic system of the United States of America. It is being applied in 31 states and Texas occupies a leading position in such a respect. The notion death penalty can be sometimes referred to as a capital punishment. It means that mentally competent adults who committed a capital murder are sentenced to death. In the US a capital murder is considered to be any murder without any aggravation taken into account.
With the course of the time the methods of execution have changed. At first from late 19th to early 20th century the death row prisoners were hanging. Than till late 20th century they were sat on electric chair. Starting from 1977 the main means of capital punishment became lethal injections.
Lethal injection is a solution consisting of sodium thiopental, pancuronium, and potassium chloride (Death Penalty in Texas and in the United States). After entering injections person a person sedates and becomes immobilized. The bromide destroys relaxes muscles and solution lungs and diaphragm and then the heartbeat stops and the prisoner dies. The death is quick as the person dies within a minute and not painful.
In Texas the criminal is sentenced to death penalty only if the capital murder was committed. Not all murders can be referred to as capital murders. For instance, when the suspect and the killed were previously acquaintances or the crime was the result of an argument, the aggregative conditions are taking into account as the murder might have been provoked. However, when the person was killed because of being crime witness or was just in the wrong place at the wrong time such murder is considered to be capital one. Once the capital murder is committed and reported to the police, a series of legal procedures are embarked to run to pledge the culprit to pay for his actions.
The Process of Death Penalty from Courts
From the side of court the process of capital punishment is very complicated. It starts on the moment when the police come upon a crime. They must carry out a thorough investigation so that present the suspect in the court. At first the police must collect evidences on the crime scene and question all possible witnesses. Sometimes they can use informants who usually receive some benefits for their participation in the case.
Once the suspect in under the custody, he is getting ready to appear in court and hear arraignment after which it is time for preliminary hearing. It is conducted to find out whether the evidences are sufficient to accuse the defendant. If so the case it transferred to grand-jury. This body consists of 23 jurors who are examining the validity of an accusation before trial.
The process described above is quite similar in almost all the U.S. states. The deference occurs when the suspect is pleaded guilty and the state is to choose what kind of punishment issues. It can be lifelong imprisonment or death penalty. In the second case the punishment hearing takes place before the same court and jury.
During this hearing the defendants are allowed to present evidence that could mitigate the sentence or pay attention to some aggravating circumstances. The court listens to all this and at the end of the hearing it has to ask jury whether there is a probability that the suspect would be a threat to society and whether he or she actually killed a person intending or anticipating to take human’s life. If the answer is unanimously positive to both questions it is time to ask third question. It sounds like whether after taking into account all the information about the murder, the background of the case, all the mitigating circumstances, the jury of twelve people think that the criminal must be sentenced to life in prison rather than to a capital punishment. It is all about this question, if the answer is negative then the murder is allowed to live in prison, but if the answer is positive, he is to receive a lethal injection. It has to be mentioned as well that if the murder is sentenced to lifelong imprisonment he does not have right for parole. This procedure applies to perpetration committed after September 2005.
This tedious process shifts from county custody to state custody where the murders are transferred. Men and women are sent to different places. For men it is Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Polunsky unit in Livingston. For women it is Mountain View unit in Gatesville. Death row offenders live separately from other prisoners in single-man cells with one small window. The size of the cell is equal to 60 square feet. From time to time death row prisoners are interviewed by an Associated Press reporter (Texas Execution Information Center).
When it comes to appeals, they occur after the verdict was issued. No matter the prisoner wants or does not want to ask for appeal, they will take place. The first appeal in this stage is carried out by Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (Texas Execution Information Center). It consists of nine judges who work with each case and they can both confirm the verdict or overturn it and ask for another trial. In the new trial the prisoner can be justified and in general this process from the first trial to the second trial takes approximately from one to two years.
In case of affirmation the defendant may compose a petition to the U. S. Supreme Court. However, the practice shows that Supreme Court tends to deny this petition. After this denial the direct appeal processes finished and the defendant can obtain an appeal only on the next stage which is called Habeas corpus or great writ.
It is a legal procedure that requires the arrested to appear in court. Habeas Rule (Friedman) housing guarantees the prisoner release from unlawful detention (for example, detention without sufficient grounds or evidence). In fact, it is the presumption of unlawful detention, stemming from the principle of personal immunity. Depending on the case, this stage may last from a few days to many years. If the appeal is successful the punishment can be altered. The prisoner may receive less time in prison or even be freed if he is not proved guilty. Otherwise, the next step for him is death row and setting of execution day.
The state district judge is the only legal authority that can fix an execution day. In most case this date is set within two to three after the sentence was passed. In this sate the prisoner can ask for appeal if new evidences have been found. If the attorney has an appeal strategy he waits till two weeks before execution day to make an appeal. If the appeal is successful the execution day will be put off. The results of the final appeal are made no more than one day before the execution.
The final appeal is the last chance of the prisoner to get a hope for a life. It fails the attorney can present a petition to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (Texas Execution Information Center). This body is empowered to grant 120-day reprieve, sentence change or release on a parole. The Texas Board of Pardons is appointed by the governor and each member of the board makes decision separately with no regard for the rest of the members. In most case, this process takes place in the execution day. The decision is made by the majority and if it is positive it is sent to the governor to get the approval. Otherwise there is only one thing that can change the verdict. It is a governor who has the unilateral authority to grant a 30-day stay (Texas Execution Information Center). The attorney and the prisoner can use it only once and that is why this option is ultimate. The governor usually waits until all the other possibilities fail. Governor’s put off is issued within the last few hours or even minutes before the execution.
It has to be noticed that the 30-day stay is the minimum term for execution postponing. In practice this delay may take months or even years. If the governor is out of the country, the lieutenant governor is in charge of this process. If both of them are absent the execution must be rescheduled. Hence, after the verdict issue the prisoner has a change to change it. If the detectives find evidences that can aggravate the crime, or new witnesses that will defend the innocence of the prisoner, the execution will be delayed. Otherwise the murderer will be executed.
Rebecca Copeland also claims that to provide appropriate defense, the country is to create a public defender office which will be more objective in cases connected to death penalty. According to her study nowadays the system of capital punishment in Texas is not ideal and the government has to improve it.
The Role of Judges
Once the capital murder is committed a long and devastating series of consequences takes place. Obviously, the hardest time is for the family of the deceased. Form one hand, that have lost a person they loved, form the other they are not actually sure of what had happened in reality and who is to blame until the verdict is issued.
Neither do judges. They are also human beings who influence life and peace of number of people. As they were not present directly in the crime, they cannot confirm or deny any information. They are people somewhere in between totally depending on the police, detectives, prosecutors and attorney, but they have more power that those previously mentioned. Their task is to carefully examine all possible evidences, hear all possible witnesses and related to the case people and based on these data make right decision.
The Importance of Lawyer in Death Penalty Case
The fact whether the defendant will be pledged guilty and sentenced to the death penalty greatly depends on the quality of work of his attorney. In most cases people accused of capital murder cannot afford an experienced lawyer and according to the Constitution the state must provide defendants with them. Unfortunately, every fourth (West Livingston CDP) case shows that the court-appointed attorney lack experience, they are underpaid and actually are not interested in the case. There were cases when the lawyers were so inexperienced that they to the court came unprepared and could hardly construct a shaky defense. No surprise that such cases ended up with execution.
According to the research by the Texas Defender Service, one out of three death row prisoners do not even have a possibility to have their case properly investigated (Lethal Indifference).
In the scope of the topic it has to be mentioned Texas Defender Service, a nonprofit organization providing well-trained and experienced attorneys to those who cannot afford this. They aim to improve the quality of representation of Texas prisoners under a death sentence by thoroughly approaching the case as well as case-tracking and giving trainings consultations (Lethal Indifference).
The Execution Day
The execution is usually set for 6:00 p.m. on a weekday. Relatives and friend can be present at the execution. The prisoned is transported to the Huntsville unit the night before to ensure that nothing interferes the process of the execution. Until 2011 death row prisoners were allowed to order their last means, but now they eat the same food as prisoners ate for supper. The prison chaplain meets with the prisoner s night before to talk, answer questions about the process and to listen to his confession.
At 6:00 p.m. the prisoner is brought to the execution chamber and inserted the solution. A few minutes later he is allowed to make his last statement Most of them are angry, prisoners blame the system, the others apologize for their deeds, few of them refer to God. The death comes approximately at 6:20 p.m.
As to the statistics, it is very sad form one side and very productive form the other, Texas occupies a leading position in executions in the U. S. It shows that the juristic system in the state work properly and the criminals are punished. The total execution in Texas since 1976 is equal to 530 cases and in the last five years the number of people punished for their deeds ranges from 10 to 17 people a year. A big portion of row death prisoners are either waiting for the execution day or in the process of constant appeals that could last for years. The executed defendants are mostly while people while blacks occupy the second position, then go Hispanics (Death Penalty Information Center).
In Taxes it was estimated that the procedure of death penalty is more expensive than the life imprisonment. It has to take into account the price of state attorneys and all appeals as well. ‘It would cost about $17,340 to house an inmate for a year and $693,500 for 40 years, far less than even part of the death penalty costs’.
Starting from September 2005 not all capital cases lead to executions. The prisoner can be sentenced to life in prison without a parole. Formerly, the juries had a choice between the capital punishment and imprisonment with a possibility of parole after 40 years (Death Penalty Information Center).
Even though nowadays the punishment of death penalty is being applied in the U. S. the practice shows that lots of cases are overturned. If the person is given to a capital punishment the chance that he or she will be actually executed is pretty low. The variety of factors can lead to the verdict change.
The case can be overturned on the stage of appeals. It was previously mentioned that the governor can grant an execution delay to consider previously absent details in the case. Habeas Rule can grant the verdict change as well.
For instance, the case of a sentenced to death criminal Johnny Paul Penry was overturned as his lawyer claimed that he had a mind of a 7-years old boy. They asked for appeal and the jury unanimously justified him. Hence, his mitigating reason was a mental disorder. This example proves that people with mental illness cannot be put to death penalty as they the crime they committed was not sophisticatedly planned and performed; it was the result of their impulsive thoughtless actions (Death Sentence Overturned in Texas Case).
All in all, the juristic system in Texas works in concord. People who committed capital murder will undoubtedly pay for this and in most cases by their own life. One can argue that such punishment is too harsh and the condition under which the crime was done can be aggravated and understood, but that is not an excuse. Human life is priceless and no one, under any circumstances can take it away. If someone dares to do this he must be punished so that all the rest can see the results of such mistake.
This paper shows how the full process works. At first the suspect undergoes a series of hearings, he is also granted to have an attorney who must do his or her best to defend the suspect. The attorney can be private or state if the defendant cannot afford the first one. If the jury decides that the defendant is guilty he can ask for appeal. On this stage different types of appeals are available and actually there is a hope that eventually the execution day will be erased form the schedule. Otherwise the prisoner will be executed. According to the statistics, the number of execution in Texas this year is 12 people, but this figure is considerably bigger than in such states as Oklahoma, Virginia, Florida and Missouri.
However, not every death penalty ends up in execution. It can be concluded that only one out of three prisoners are actually executed. Other cases are overturned and the punishment is changed into lesser penalties like life imprisonment or even total removal of accusation. But this is a long and complicated process involving attorneys, new evidences, sets of appeals and sometimes long years to make the things work. The process of appeals is lengthy and there are different stages of appeals. It is so because capital punishment is a very serious punishment and even minor mistake cannot be made. That is why not all capital murderers are executed. The court, judges and jury examine each case carefully; they listen to all things that it is connected to the case as well as interview all witnesses and even defendant relatives. Thus, in the United States in general, and in Texas in particular this extremely vulnerable process it being done cautiously.