Texas' Capital Punishment Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Capital Punishment in Texas

Khalil, Samy. "Doing the impossible: Appellate reweighing of harm and mitigation in capital cases after Williams v. Taylor, with a special focus on Texas." Texas Law Review, 80(1): November 2001. Proquest Database.

In this article, Khalil examines how state and federal courts have overturned death sentences, from a period covering the reinstitution of the death penalty in 1976 to 2001. The author focuses on sentences that have been upset due to the failure of defense lawyers to both investigate and present mitigating evidence during trial. The author makes a strong argument by referring to Williams v. Taylor, which argues that appellate courts cannot be expected to reweigh harm and mitigation when attorneys present adequate defense representation. In the case of Texas, the author rightly observes that appellate courts would have difficulty reviewing all capital cases arising from Texas, since even fact-finders in Texas are not required by law to conduct such balancing inquiries. These factors combine to present a powerful legal argument against the death penalty.

Hall, Michael. "Death Isn't Fair." Texas Monthly, 20(12): December 2002.

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The article presents a strong case for reforming the system of capital punishment in Texas. To bolster his argument, the author presents examples showing how the state executes people who were juveniles during the time of their offenses, people who were not adequately represented by counsel and even people who were mentally retarded. Other death penalty cases resulted from overzealous police offices and prosecutors. The appellate court meanwhile is unable to evaluate cases involving inadequate defense counsel. Because of these factors, Hall argues that Texas has been widely criticized by legal and human rights scholars from around the world. While the author concludes that Texas will likely maintain the death penalty as long as provided y the Supreme Court, the article presents powerful stories questioning the fairness of capital punishment's application in Texas.

Supreme Court OKs Review of Texas Death Row Case." Jet. 103(12): March 2002.

In another example that throws the fairness of the death penalty into question, the author examines the case of Thomas Miller-El, who was granted a new hearing after being on death row since 1985. The United States Supreme Court ruled that the defendant deserved another right to investigate his claim that prosecutors filled the jury with death penalty supporters and Caucasian members. In his trial, Miller-El was found guilty of capital murder in the killing of a Holiday Inn employee by a jury of nine whites, one Filipino, one African-American and one Hispanic. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Miller-El was eligible for a hearing to determine whether Dallas County prosecutors violated the defendant's right to a trial free from discrimination when the prosecutors excluded 10 of 11 eligible African-Americans. Though not on the death penalty per se, this article illustrates the importance of extra-legal factors such as a jury's racial make-up in death penalty cases.

Brock, Deon; Cohen, Nigel and Sorensen, Jonathan. "Arbitrariness in the Imposition of Death Sentences in Texas: An Analysis of Four Counties by Offense Seriousness, Race of Victim, and Race of Offender. American Journal of Criminal Law, 28(1): Fall 2000.

In this article, arbitrariness is defined as "the absence of a legitimate justification for an action or pattern of actions." The authors of this study challenge the notion that the death penalty is applied in a non-arbitrary manner, where the level of an offender's culpability determines the weight of the sentence. Through an analysis of murder arrest and death penalty conviction data obtained from the Texas Department of Public Safety, the authors find that the death penalty imposition is often made in an arbitrary manner. Some defendants guilty of lesser crimes could receive death sentences while others with more brutal crimes could receive life sentences. The authors found that in Harris County, Dallas, Forth Worth and San Antonio, the greatest predictor of a death sentence was the race of the victim. Interracial crimes involving a white victim were more likely to result in death penalty sentences. These findings build on previous studies conducted on victim race and the death penalty, and are a good analytical addition to the body of research regarding the effects of race on determining capital punishment.

Sorenson, John; Wrinkle, Robert; and Marquart, James. "Capital Punishment and Deterrence: Examining the Effect of Executions on Murder in Texas." Crime and Delinquence, 45(1): 481-493, 1999.

The main argument in favor of the death penalty is the need to deter crime. Proponents of the death penalty argue that capital punishment protects society by instilling fear in potential murderers. In this study, Sorenson et al. investigate patterns of execution in Texas and statistically analyze whether the rise in executions had any effect on the number of murders. The authors found that the murder rate in Texas has remained steady, despite the re-imposition of the death penalty. The conclusion of the article is that the number of executions was unrelated to murder cases or felony rates. The authors thus present statistical evidence that throw into question the deterrence effect of the death penalty.

Lynch, Michael. "Editorial: DNA Evidence and Justice -- The Texas Proposal." Social Pathology 6(4): December 2000. Proquest Database.

In this article, Michael Lynch examines a proposal in Texas to guard against wrongful convictions and executions of death penalty cases. Supporters of the death penalty are seeking to address criticism of Texas' corrections system by providing funding for DNA testing for inmates. Supporters of this measure believe that the $2,000 per prisoner expenditure is justified since it would provide extra measures to guard against wrongful convictions in death penalty cases. While the proposal is laudable, however, DNA tests would do little to address the arbitrariness with which the death penalty is imposed, especially with regards to race. The author also rightly points out that this proposal would only serve to "legitimize" capital punishments while glossing over its serious faults. In the wake of the Enron scandal, the author also relates the proposal to larger questions within the justice system, where individual crimes are dealt with much more severely than corporate ones.

Colloff, Pamela. "Does Napoleon Beazly deserve to die?" Texas Monthly, 30(4): April 2002.

In contrast to the numerous legal and statistical arguments that have been made for and against the death penalty, Pamela Colloff presents a qualitative argument regarding the effects and questions surrounding the capital punishment. In this affecting article, the author uses in-depth interviews to study the lives of people who have been affected by the crime of Napoleon Beazley, who murdered oilman John Luttig during a car jacking in 1994. Beazley was a minor at the time of the crime, while Luttig was a prominent white citizen and the father of a federal judge. Beazley's case raised several issues regarding the application of the death penalty in Texas. The young man, who is black, was a minor when he killed Luttig. Beazley also had no prior record and was in fact, a good student in high school. In spite of a number of character witnesses including the high school principal, teachers, and fellow church members, the jury sentenced Beazley to death.

To maintain balance, the author also interviewed federal judge J. Michael Luttig. The author suggests that the federal judge's powerful testimony was the factor that swayed the jury to vote for the death penalty. In the U.S. Supreme Court, the decision regarding the question of whether a minor should be executed ended in a tie when three justices recused themselves.

Though the article does not take a specific side, it does present another example of the arbitrary nature with which the death penalty is applied and the extra-legal measures that come into play when deciding who received the death penalty. In this case, the swarm of character witnesses - including district attorneys from Houston - was not enough to overcome the powerful testimony of a grieving federal judge.

Holmes, John B. "Dealing out death." Texas Monthly, 30(7): July 2002. Proquest Database.

In this opinion article, former Harris County District Attorney John Holmes defends his record of seeking the death penalty in a high percentage of the capital murders that he had handled. Holmes argues that according to law, juries should have the option of meting out the death penalty. This was done in the case of Andrea Yates, the mother who killed her five children during what was argued as post-partum depression. Holmes also argues for victim rights, such as the husband of the woman murdered by repentant killer Karla Faye Tucker. Finally, Holmes argues that the laws of Texas must be applied in Texas, and that only Texans have the right to decide death penalty cases that happen in their jurisdiction.

Many of these articles represent the "common sense" arguments for the death penalty. However, they also fail to take into consideration the inherent unfairness of applying a harsher law in Texas than in the rest of the state, or arguments of whether this law is fairly applied. Furthermore, Holmes himself…

Sources Used in Document:

Owens, Virginia Stem and Owens, David Clinton. Living Next Door to the Death House. New York: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003.

In this book, the authors present the effects of executions in the town of Huntsville, Texas, known as "the death penalty capital of the United States." While other accounts focus on the victims or the offenders, Owens and Owens conduct in-depth interviews with prison guards, wardens, chaplains and other people who are involved in executions, many of which are Huntsville residents. Particularly affecting are the interviews with the technicians who directly administer the lethal injections to the inmates who are executed.

These interviews show that many of the people whose lives are directly affected by the death penalty system have conflicted feelings regarding capital punishment. This honestly written book presents a balanced account regarding a community's views regarding the death penalty. The fact that the community in question is directly involved

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