"Report: Death Penalty Applied Haphazardly in Texas," is Peter Malof's post for Texas Public News Service.
While the use of capital punishment is declining, Texas still relies on it more than any other state - and implements it haphazardly, according to a report released today.
Striking variations exist between counties about how often prosecutors seek the death penalty, says report author Kristin Houlé, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. For example, in the past year, more than half the state's new death sentences were handed down in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. By contrast, there were no new death sentences in Houston.
"It really is subject to the discretion of individual prosecutors. Cases with individuals with comparable backgrounds - or who raised similar legal arguments - received vastly different treatment in the criminal justice system."
National surveys show support for the death penalty on the decline. It's now about 60 percent, down from a high of 80 percent. But support drops below 50 percent when alternatives, such as life sentences without parole, are included in polls.
The TCADP report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2012: The Year in Review, is available in Adobe .pdf format.
TCADP has also issued a news release announcing the report. Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the release:
More than half of all new death sentences were imposed in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex this year, while no new death sentences were imposed in Harris County for the third time in five years, according to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s (TCADP) new report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2012: The Year in Review.
New death sentences in Texas have declined more than 75% since 2002 and remain near historic low levels in 2012. To date this year, juries have condemned nine new individuals to death in Texas, a slight increase over 2011 and 2010, when new death sentences fell to their lowest number since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Texas’ revised death penalty statute in 1976. The verdict in a capital murder trial in Brazos County, in which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, has been delayed indefinitely pending a legal dispute over jury instructions.
Tarrant and Dallas Counties each accounted for two new death sentences and Johnson County accounted for one. Dallas County now leads the state in new death sentences since 2008, accounting for nearly 20% of sentences imposed in the last five years. Dallas County also led the state in executions, accounting for 5 of the 15 executions carried out this year.
Related posts are in the report category index.