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What Crimes Are Punishable By Death in Texas?

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In the famous words of Hammurabi, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ Does this notion extend to a life for a life? According to the courtrooms in Texas, it sure does!

Individuals who have been charged with taking someone else’s life can be punished by having their lives taken from them. This law of retaliation remains in place in Texas, and it’s defined as capital punishment.

What is the death penalty in Texas, and what crimes are punishable by death? Are there limits to enforcing the death penalty, and can you overturn a death sentence? Learn everything you need to know about the death penalty in Texas below.

Is the Death Penalty Legal?

In Texas, capital punishment is defined as the ultimate punishment. It’s the legal execution of an individual who has been convicted of one of the most severe crimes, which usually means they’ve taken the life of another person.

As you can imagine, the death penalty has been around for centuries. In Ancient Greece and Rome, Hammurabi ordered the death penalty for anyone convicted of murder, treason, rape or arson. The notion of retaliation and retribution eventually spread to other parts of the world, and it’s still upheld in many areas of the United States.

While the death penalty is highly controversial, it’s still considered legal under certain most circumstances. Over half of all states in the US, the federal government and the U.S. military all continue to impose the death penalty for certain crimes.

Are you facing serious charges? Attorney Brett Podolsky can help »

What Crimes are Punishable by Death in Texas?

Death is the ultimate and most extreme penalty that can be levied against a suspect by the courts. For that reason, only murder or homicide crimes are eligible for capital punishment sentences. On top of that, the murder or homicide must meet one or more of the following requirements:

  • The victim was an official (police officer, fireman, etc) who was performing their official duties
  • The suspect committed the crime while in prison for a previous murder (or a life sentence for aggravated kidnapping, robbery or sexual assault)
  • The victim was younger than ten years old
  • Multiple individuals perished as a result of the alleged crime
  • The crime occurred during the commission of another violent crime (burglary, kidnapping, sexual assault, arson or act of terrorism)
  • The murder was paid for
  • The crime was retaliation against an order made by a Texas court
  • The victim was murdered while working at a penal institution
  • The victim was killed during an attempted or actual prison break

If you were charged with any other type of crime, then you’re not eligible for the death penalty.

Limits to the Death Penalty

The death penalty isn’t the most popular punishment in the U.S. Critics often argue that a life sentence in jail is just as effective as a deterrent as the death penalty. Many have also argued that we’ve potentially executed innocent individuals in the past.

On top of that, there’s also been a lot of controversy surrounding whether capital punishment should be considered “cruel and unusual.” This distinction is significant because the Eighth Amendment protects citizens from the federal government’s imposition of cruel and unusual punishments. While this argument is valid, the Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty doesn’t constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

There are certain limitations that the state of Texas does have to abide by, though. Here are a few limitations to the death penalty in Texas:

  • Individuals suffering from mental retardation cannot be given the death penalty
  • Those with severe mental illnesses aren’t eligible for capital punishment
  • Juveniles who are 17 years old or younger can’t be given the death penalty

Just last year, the Supreme Court was presented with an interesting case. According to the suspect, death row inmate Russell Bucklew, a lethal injection could be considered ‘cruel and unusual’ because of his pre-existing medical condition. In a landmark decision, the court voted 5-4 against providing the inmate with an alternative method of execution.

What Is a Stay of Execution? Can I Overturn a Death Sentence?

The Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has already taken countless lives, but it’s also extending the lives of a few, too. According to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Tracy Beatty was set to be executed right in the middle of this global health crisis. Due to the unprecedented circumstances, the court granted Beatty a 60-day stay of execution.

What is a stay of execution, anyway? A stay of execution is a court order that halts a person’s execution. This grace period is intended to help courtrooms ensure that the person who is being executed is, without a doubt, guilty of committing the offense they’ve been charged with. If there’s no doubt that the person is guilty, then the courts are unlikely to grant a stay of execution.

Often, a Texas courtroom will offer a stay of execution when:

  • New facts have come to light
  • The offender argues that his defense team didn’t represent him properly
  • Unprecedented events (like the Covid-19 virus) provide a reason for an extension on the execution date

While it is rare, Texas courtrooms have overturned death sentences in the past. In February of 2020, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned a death sentence for Charles Brownlow. The suspect is accused of slaying five innocent individuals back in 2013, but he’s also argued that he is intellectually and psychologically disabled.

If you’re hoping to appeal your capital punishment conviction, then it’s crucial to hire a legal expert with experience in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. If you were convicted of a capital crime, then you’re automatically given the opportunity to appeal. You’ll need to prove that there was an issue stemming from your court trial, though. In addition, you’ll need to file your appeal within a timely manner. An attorney can help you through this process.

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The Death Penalty in Texas

While a growing number of U.S. citizens oppose the death penalty, the vast majority of citizens still do support it. The Supreme Court has also repeatedly upheld the notion that capital punishment is an acceptable sentence for individuals accused of committing the most egregious crimes.

Despite that, no one wants to hear that they’ve been sentenced to death by the courts. This is especially true when you feel that you didn’t get a fair trial or due process. Our attorneys are prepared to help you regardless of how impossible your situation seems. Reach out to our office now to hear more about how we can help.

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