Thursday, June 15, 2017

Why Death Sentences Have Dropped in Texas

Why Death Sentences Have Dropped in Texas
Dudley Sharp

Re: Texas is issuing fewer death sentences and executing fewer inmates, report says, Samantha Ketterer, Dallas Morning News, 12/15/16

From: Dudley Sharp

The referenced report, issued by Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP), finds that opinions and practices, against the death penalty, as well as the adoption of life without parole (LWOP) in 2005, expensive death penalty trials and better legal defense are reasons for the drop, as per Kristin Houlé, the coalition's director.

Rob Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, finds:

"I don’t know that that (the drop in death sentences) should surprise anybody," "The number of murders alone and the number of death-eligible cases is way lower than it was in the '80s and '90s."

Let's look.

Life Without Parole (LWOP) and Texas Death Penalty Reduction

LWOP law went into effect in Texas on September 1, 2005.

I didn't find any post 9/1/2005 capital murders that pled down to LWOP before 12/31/2005 nor any death penalty option trials that were decided prior to 12/31/2005, with a LWOP sentence.

There was a 69% drop in death sentences, from 48 in 1999 to 15 in 2005, PRIOR to LWOP having any effect on death sentences.

The first year that the LWOP law could have had any effect on death sentences was in 2006, with 11 death sentences.

In 2007, death sentences rose by 36%, to 15.

With almost total consistency, death sentences averaged a little over 10 per year from 2006-2014, which added an  additional 10% drop, to 79%, from the 69% decline of 1999-2005, with that 10%, easily, seen as part of a consistent 15 year (1999-2014)  downward trend, unaffected by LWOP, with the 06-14 drop, massively, smaller than the pre LWOP drop.

In effect, there was no drop from 2006-2014, the nine years period, right after LWOP became law.

Prior to LWOP application, death sentences averaged about a 10% drop per year from 1999-2005, but about a 1% drop per year from 2006-2014, on average, after LWOP application, from 11 in 2006 to an average of 10, from 2007-2014, with 15 in 2007 and 11 in 2008 and 2014.

Death sentences dropped in 2015 and 2016, to 2 and 4, respectively, 10 years after the LWOP law, with no reason to suggest that LWOP was the reason for those numbers, after a 10 year wait, when none of the immediate, previous 15 year, 79% drop can be connected to LWOP.

It is important to note that juries were not allowed to be told that the previous, pre 2005 life sentences, had parole eligibility.

Texas had a 55% drop in murders (71% drop in rate),  37% drop in robberies (60% drop in rate), from 1991-2014.

Robbery/murder is the most common death eligible crime, which may have dropped 70-80%, during that 1991-2014 period, which may account for the entire drop.

When I first heard the claims about Texas' LWOP law causing the death sentence drop (1), I didn't even have to fact check. I already knew about the huge reductions in violent crime rates, inclusive of murder and robbery, prior to the LWOP law, just as all Texas media and Houlé, also knew..

Other Alleged Causes For The Drop In Death Sentences

They are, mainly, nonsense

1) Fairness

"Democratic state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., the author of the life-without-parole law, said "It isn't life without parole that has weakened the death penalty," "It is a growing lack of belief that our system is fair."(1)

Lucio is correct about LWOP and I have seen no evidence that either prosecutors or jurors have reduced death sentences because of "unfairness".  . .  neither has Lucio.

2)  The Innocence & Exoneration Problems

All death penalty prosecutors are aware of the massive "innocent" and "exoneration" frauds (2), spread by anti death penalty folks and parroted by the media, so that would have no effect in their seeking the death penalty.

Alan Levy, Tarrant County district attorney's office, credits the Innocence Project groups with "convincing the public that the system is much less reliable than it is." (1).

How is the public subject to the Innocence Project, as well as other anti death penalty groups, "innocent" deceptions? Only via the media. I am unaware of any study finding that capital cases or any death penalty case jurors have been effected by these frauds.

3) Costs

"Also, in the recession, the higher costs of pursuing the death penalty have become harder to ignore, and life without parole is a far cheaper alternative." (1).


Up front costs have always been higher in death penalty cases, so that gives no reason, now, for that to cause fewer death sentences. It always has. Yes, the up front costs would be more of a challenge during a recession, however . . . there has only been an average of a 1% drop in death sentences, per year, since the recession, a much slower drop than prior to the recession.

It is the most populous counties which have, by far, the greatest number of death eligible crimes, and, within those counties, the death penalty would have the smallest percentage affect on budgets, likely, under 0.1% of the total budget. About 2% of death penalty jurisdictions have more than half of the death sentenced cases, as expected, because they have the majority of violent crimes, as well as the largest populations and the largest resources.

The only academic review of death penalty vs lifer costs in Texas found that life cases were more expensive (3). So, again, we may be getting the wrong information from the media (1), as they, so often, just follow the anti death penalty lead, which is that the death penalty is, always, millions more expensive than LWOP, which is complete nonsense (3).

"Pursuing life without parole from the onset can avoid millions in legal costs and settle cases quickly."

True. If you plea bargain to LWOP, only possible with the death penalty, the savings are huge.

4) Popular Opinion

a) Anti Death Penalty Prosecutors

The alleged popular opinion drop, against the death penalty, would have had little to no effect on prosecutors seeking the death penalty, unless we had a noticeably higher percentage of anti death penalty prosecutors elected, which, apparently, may not have occurred until the incoming class of 2017 with, by far, the largest drop in death sentences occurring from 1999-2005.

b) Polling

I say "alleged" popular opinion drop because the media has, for at least, the past 10 years, chosen only those polls with the lowest death penalty support and excluded others, as detailed (4).

The highest death penalty support, ever, was 86%, in 2013, as recorded by Angus-Reid, the #1 most accurate pollster in the 2012 presidential election (4). You are, likely, unaware. Not one media outlet carried it (4).

That's what we are dealing with.

c) Lying Jurors

If the smallest percentage, possible, of anti death penalty folks lie to get on capital eligible jury, that would, certainly have an effect, but I am unaware how you could prove that. It takes only 1 juror (8%) to stop a death sentence, ruling over 11 (92%), without question, the most undemocratic government mandated program, ever devised.

d) Reality

It has been found that 2/3 of capital cases result in a sanction less than death. If true, we could measure if that percentage has risen. I am unaware of any such review. (see Just Revenge : costs and consequences of the death penalty, Mark Costanzo, St. Martin's Press, 1997)

5) Other reasons

I suggest that both upgraded defense and a series of US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decisions, may have, both, contributed to the Texas drop, with both being minuscule, compared to the capital murder drop.


There are many factors, small and large, that may have affected death sentence reduction in Texas, with the reduction in capital murders being, overwhelmingly, the most causal and  the most obvious, as well as the most hopeful and welcome sign. as well as the most, commonly, downplayed or absent, by anti death penalty activists and their counterparts in media.

1) A. Batheja, "Death sentences have dropped sharply after life without parole became possible," Fort Worth Star-Telegram, November 15, 2009 with active link, found here, as directed by the reporter.
Texas sends fewer to death row, November 28, 2009

2) The Innocent Frauds: Standard Anti Death Penalty Strategy

3)  See Texas

Saving Costs with The Death Penalty

4) 86% Death Penalty Support: Highest Ever - April 2013
World Support Remains High
95% of Murder Victim's Family Members Support Death Penalty