Thursday, May 31, 2018

Texas: Why Fewer Death Sentences

Texas: Why Fewer Death Sentences
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 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."

Whose right? Kepple - by a mile.

The Texas Life Without Parole (LWOP) law went into effect 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 an effect on death sentences was in 2006, with 11 death sentences.
In 2007, death sentences rose by 36%.
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.

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, after LWOP application.
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. In fact, the reduction of death sentences dropped, dramatically, about 90%/yr., from 2006-2014, after the LWOP became law.
It is important to note that juries were not allowed to be told that the previous life sentences in Texas 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%, or more, during that 1999-2014 period, which may account for the entire drop.

With the exception of the drop in capital murders, the other alleged reasons for the drop in death sentences, mentioned by Houle,  have a much more minor effect, if any, with HoulĂ© completely missing the most obvious, as virtually all anti death penalty folks do, intentionally, as it doesn't fit the anti death penalty narrative.

A series of US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decisions, limiting death penalty application, may have also contributed to the drop.