Court Rulings, Sentencing Guidelines Limit Death Penalty Cases

After a second death penalty defeat at the U.S. Supreme Court, a pair of Texas Republicans have signed onto a Democratic bill to establish a uniform process for determining whether a convicted murderer is intellectually disabled, or ineligible for the death penalty.

“I think it would be prudent for us to get that clarified in the light of the recent decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court,” says Andy Kahan, director of victim services and advocacy at Crime Stoppers of Houston. “If we can rectify it on the local front then these cases don't need to go to the highest court in the land.”

Recent court rulings coupled with the increasing use of life sentences have led to fewer capital punishment cases in Texas, leaving many victims' families without a sense of real justice.

“It's difficult for them to deal with and a harsh reality is a majority of the cases who are overturned will now find themselves immediately in the parole process, so it's like a double-whammy for some families,” says Kahan.

Kahan says the criteria for sentencing someone to death has tightened in recent years.

“Would it surprise me if the death penalty was taken off the books? No. We've seen it before in the seventies,” he says. “You've seen other states who have removed the death penalty as an option, whether or not it will happen in Texas is certainly an issue worthy of debate.”

Texas has an execution scheduled Thursday in Huntsville, with five more planned this year.

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