Texas Bill Would Determine Death Penalty Eligibility

Barbara Schwarz
May 08, 2019 - 6:43 am
Texas Capitol building

Credit: RoschetzkyIstockPhoto/GettyImages

Categories: 

AUSTIN (1080 KRLD) - A Texas House bill would let a judge decide if a capital murder defendant is eligible for the death penalty.

Following a Supreme Court decision in 2002, it has been unconstitutional to execute an intellectually disabled person, but the state's definition of that is somewhat murky. In 2017, the high court struck down a test for deciding that disability from the Texas court of criminal appeals. 

A bill by Houston Democrat Senfronia Thompson would call for capital murder suspects who claim intellectual disability to have a pre trial hearing. If a judge rules against them, they could face the death penalty if convicted, a ruling in favor would mean they would face up to life in prison. 

Robert Dunham with the Death Penalty information center says Texas has long struggled with who is eligible. "Texas has drawn very bad attention to itself in the way it has handled death cases and in particular the way it has handled death penalty cases involving issues of intellectual disability"

He says most states with the death penalty require such a hearing. "If the court says the defendant is intellectually disabled, then the public saves the enormous resources that could go in to a capital trial and potentially decades of capital appeals."

Thompson says each capital murder death penalty case costs the state about two and a half million dollars.

The bill has support on both sides of the aisle.