Thursday, October 25, 2012

Texas juries sent just six people to death row in FY 2011

Since we've broached the subject of the death penalty, I should mention this remarkable bit of datum Grits ran across while researching another topic: According to TDCJ's latest annual statistical report (pdf, p. 35), the Lone Star state sent just six new defendants to death row in FY 2011, compared to 93 people sentenced to life without parole. Last year the number of new death sentences nationally hit an all time low, and surely six in one year must be a modern low for Texas - down 85% from a high of 40 new death sentences in 1996. This news reminds me of this graphic created by the Office of Court Administration and published last year in this Grits post:

Although the implementation of life without parole as the sole option to a death sentence in capital cases - an "enhancement" approved by the Texas Legislature in 2005 with support from the abolitionist movement - is often attributed to reduced Texas death sentences, this graph shows that the trend toward juries rejecting death sentences began long before that legislation was implemented. See a related, recent story from the Waco Tribune Herald about various reasons suggested for the decline in death sentences, pinning much of the responsibility on pragmatic prosecutors choosing to seek death sentences less often, partly because of cost.

Ironically, the Texas execution chamber has been extra busy lately,with more scheduled between now and Christmas (assuming none of those are stopped by the courts). The public still supports capital punishment on a symbolic level, but in most Texas courtrooms it's becoming a practical rarity.

1 comment:

Kirk said...

My concern: who will fight for the innocent men and women who are sentenced to life without parole?