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By Paul Hill
HOUSTON - New data released from the U.S. Department of Justice show that Texas
has maintained a steady rate of death sentences, although the nationwide rate
fell to a 30-year low in 2003. Texas accounts for one in five death sentences
nationwide currently, which is a dramatic increase from one in ten in 1996.
Texas sends an average of 34 people to death row each year, maintaining a steady
rate since the late 1980's, according to the Justice Department.
Legal experts note that the judicial process which determines how capital punishment
is practiced in Texas accounts for why Texas consistently sentences more people
to death than anywhere else in the country. Most states give jurors a choice
between death and a life sentence without parole. Texas jurors have to choose
between death and a life sentence with a possible parole in 40 years.
Texas also has one of the highest rates of executions in the nation. About
35% of those receiving death penalties between 1977 and 2002 were executed.
Since 1977, 333 men and two women have been executed in Texas. Only Virginia
tops Texas in the rate of execution.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed two Texas death sentences on 11/15/04.
It rebuked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' for not following previous orders
to ensure that juries consider mitigating evidence, such as a convicted person's
intellectual deficits and emotional problems, before meting out punishment.
Dissenting were justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
Some Texas legal experts have noted that the Supreme Court is sending a message that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal is so wrong that it requires intervention and supervision in its application of the death penalty.
The author can be reached at PHill2@houston.rr.com