| |TEXAS & THE DEATH PENALTY | |SOC. 312 / | | | | | Putting people to death for breaking the law is a punishment that has been in existence for thousands of years of human history and has been enforced in all corners of the world by different societies.
Capital punishment has become a very controversial subject that is widely accepted by some people and harshly protested by others especially in today’s American society where differences in opinion about subjects such as this are as broad and complicated as the legal information and research information that has been published about it. This is also one of those subjects where it is impossible, because of these differences for there to be any sort of universal agreement among law makers, law breakers, conforming citizens, communities and societies because it involves punishment by the decision of taking or sparing of a human life.
In the American context, when the topic of the death penalty arises, a word that might come to mind is “Texas”. Texas is probably the most popular state in the U. S. when it comes to this legal sanction because of its notorious history of carrying out over four hundred executions since 1974 and executing more offenders than any other death penalty retentionist jurisdiction. This reputation is what fueled the idea for our group paper.
This paper intends to discuss the socio-economic effects, political and deterrent effects of capital punishment in Texas and how it applies to criminology. The deterrence effect of capital punishment is the main criminological element that can be applied to this sort of research because some of the biggest arguments made about this tool of the criminal justice system of Texas and anywhere else are the questions of does the death penalty keep people from committing serious crime and does it really protect the public from the offenders who are on death row and eventually executed?
Texas developed one of the most sophisticated criminal codes in the country during the 1973 “reform legislature” which did a complete overhaul of the state’s criminal justice code in response to a recent corruption scandal in the state’s government resulting in half of the seats in the Texas House of Representatives being filled by new members. This was also in response to the U. S Supreme Court’s decision in Furman v. Georgia which leaned on the unconstitutionality of the current capital punishment laws and eventually annulled nationwide death penalty sentences.
This half-new freshman legislature revised the criminal laws of capital punishment in a few ways: One was by implementing a bifurcated trial process. This process was designed to separate the guilt-innocence and punishment phases of the criminal trial. The second revision was the change in the execution method to lethal injection which was seen to be a more humane execution style than electrocution, firing squad or hanging. The third revision was the declaration that only capital murder offenses qualified offenders for capital punishment in Texas.
These are crimes such as murder of a police or public safety officer, murder during commission of a felony offense such as robbery, burglary, sexual offense, etc. The Texas Penal Code states that even offenders considered a “party” to a capital murder offense, meaning he or she did not have personal involvement in the act of murder can also be held responsible for it and be sentenced to death. There are circumstances where the death penalty will not be imposed in Texas.
Examples are if the offender was under 18 at the time of the murder that there is enough convincing evidence to prove that the offender was mentally insane or retarded at the time of the offense, or that the district attorney’s office does not decide to push the death penalty in a certain case. This criminal code is one of the most sophisticated in the country and has become a model for other states to follow. But research studies conducted to compare effects of the death penalty nationwide have shown some conflicting results.
Comparison studies done to show homicide rates of retentionist and abolitionist jurisdictions from 1999 to 2001 (Sorenson & Pilgrim) have shown that death penalty states tend to have a higher murder rate than abolitionist states. This result creates the argument of the overall deterrent effect of execution. Texas is still in the top 20 of states with the highest homicide rate even though it is the highest in death penalty executions. “If the death penalty were a deterrent, the argument goes, then Texas should be located among those states with the lowest homicide rates” (Sorenson & Pilgrim, P. 5). Another subtopic that has caused much debate along with the death penalty is the increasing influence of today’s media reporting on capital punishment cases and pushing to have televised executions as a form of retribution for some viewers and a kind of morbid reality show- entertainment for others. This also brings in the question of whether or not media coverage of executions encourages criminal behavior or increases the reality of the government-inflicted punishment to those who are watching it.
There are several pros made by pro-death penalty and cons made by those against it that repeatedly come up in debate: Some main pros are that the death penalty can give closure to the victims family, it can prevent the offender from getting a chance of parole if sentenced to life in prison which can provide a chance for release and further crimes being committed. There is also the point that in America’s justice system there is a principle that the penalty should fit the crime.
If someone commits capital murder and is convicted then the belief by supporters is that the punishment of death by the state is justifiable. One of the most popular beliefs among supporters is the concept of retribution. “Retribution is the idea that an individual who commits a crime deserves to be punished for upsetting the moral order; responsibility for restoring balance is upon the offender. To determine how to correct the wrong, retribution looks only at the crime” (Sorenson & Pilgrim, P. 77). This is part of the “they deserve it” and “eye for an eye” ideology.
Some of the cons of the death penalty are believed to be the cost paid by taxpayers to fund capital punishment which can cost several times as much as imprisoning someone for life, it’s considered immoral and that it violates the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution in the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause, and there is a possibility that innocent people can be wrongly convicted and executed. In the 37 states and federal government that currently have death penalty statutes, five different methods of execution are prescribed: Lethal Injection, Electrocution, Lethal Gas, Firing Squad, and Hanging.
The vast majority of jurisdictions provide for execution by lethal injection. 20 jurisdictions provide for alternative methods of execution, contingent upon the choice of the inmate, the date of the execution or sentence, or the possibility of the method being held unconstitutional. Only one state does not have lethal injection as a primary or optional method of execution. Nebraska is the only state that provides for electrocution as the sole method of execution. No states provide for Lethal Gas, Hanging, or Firing Squad as the sole method of execution.
In 2007 New Jersey became the first state to repeal its death penalty laws since it was reinstated in the United States in 1976. In 2008 the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the use of the electric chair as a method of execution violates the Nebraska Constitution. With no alternative methods of execution on the books, Nebraska is practically without a death penalty. Yet, in Texas, lethal injection is still the primary form of capital punishment used today. From here, I’ll discuss the various famous forms of capital punishment execution, and how each are applied to death row inmates in the United States.
Not all of these forms are practiced as frequently as the next, yet all certainly grasp our attention as to what people have been subjected to in the past as far as execution goes. First I’ll discuss lethal injection. “The punishment of death must be inflicted by continuous, intravenous administration of a lethal quantity of an short-acting barbiturate in combination with a chemical paralytic agent until death is pronounced by a licensed physician according to accepted standards of medical practice (Texas State Statute). The execution protocol for most jurisdictions authorizes the use of a combination of three drugs. The first, sodium thiopental or sodium pentothal, is a barbiturate that renders the prisoner unconscious. The second, pancuronium bromide, is a muscle relaxant that paralyzes the diaphragm and lungs. The third, potassium chloride, causes cardiac arrest. Each chemical is lethal in the amounts administered. The inmate is escorted into the execution chamber and is strapped onto a gurney with ankle and wrist restraints.
The inmate is connected to a cardiac monitor which is connected to a printer outside the execution chamber. An IV is started in two usable veins, one in each arm, and a flow of normal saline solution is administered at a slow rate. One line is held in reserve in case of a blockage or malfunction in the other. At the warden’s signal, 5. 0 grams of sodium pentothal is administered, then the line is flushed with sterile normal saline solution. This is followed by 50 cc of pancuronium bromide, a saline flush, and finally, 50 cc of potassium chloride.
The most common problem encountered is collapsing veins and the inability to properly insert the IV. Some states allow for a Thorazine or sedative injection to facilitate IV insertion. Lethal injection had first been proposed as a means of execution in 1888 when New York considered it, but ultimately opted for electrocution. In 1977, Oklahoma became the first state to adopt lethal injection. Texas performed the first execution by lethal injection in 1982 with the execution of Charlie Brooks (Groner JI, 2002).
Sixteen states and the federal government authorize lethal injection as the sole method of execution. Twenty other states provide for lethal injection as the primary method of execution, but provide alternative methods depending upon the choice of the inmate, the date of the execution or sentence, or the possibility of the method being held unconstitutional. “As of April 1, 2008, 929 (85%) of 1,099 executions performed since 1976 have been by lethal injection, including 443 of the last 448 executions (DPIC, Methods of execution). Next, I’ll touch on electrocution, and how it’s played a role in society. “The sentence shall be executed by causing to pass through the body of the convict a current of electricity of sufficient intensity to cause death, and the application and continuance of such current through the body of such convict shall continue until such convict is dead. (Texas State Statute)”. The execution protocol for most jurisdictions authorizes the use of a wooden chair with restraints and connections to an electric current. The offender enters the execution chamber and is placed in the electric chair.
The chair is constructed of oak and is set on a rubber matting and bolted to a concrete floor. Lap, chest, arm, and forearm straps are secured. A leg piece (anklet) is laced to the offender’s right calf and a sponge and electrode is attached. The headgear consists of a metal headpiece covered with a leather hood which conceals the offender’s face. The metal part of the headpiece consists of a copper wire mesh screen to which the electrode is brazened. A wet sponge is placed between the electrode and the offender’s scalp. The safety switch is closed.
The circuit breaker is engaged. The execution control panel is activated. The automatic cycle begins with the programmed 2,300 volts for eight seconds, followed by 1,000 volts for 22 seconds, followed by 2,300 volts for eight seconds. When the cycle is complete, the equipment is disconnected and the manual circuit behind the chair is disengaged. If the offender is not pronounced dead, the execution cycle is then repeated. This may seem like a much more cruel form of capital punishment, and probably why they don’t practice this method as frequently as they did in the past.
The most common problems encountered include burning of varying degrees to parts of the body, and a failure of the procedures to cause death without repeated shocks. Witness accounts of many botched executions over the years have caused electrocution to be replaced with lethal injection as the most common method of execution. In 1888, New York became the first state to adopt electrocution as its method of execution. William Kemmler was the first man executed by electrocution in 1890. The last state to adopt electrocution as a method of execution was in 1949.
From 1930-1980 it was clearly the most common method of execution in the United States. Through time, society has changed, and so have people’s views towards capital punishment and its inhumane nature. Those who believe capital punishment serves as a necessary punishment in the United States and Texas also believe it should be administered in a contemporary way. However, inmates do have the choice of their method of execution in some states. For example, Daryl Holton elected electrocution in Tennessee on September 12, 2007.
Next, I want to discuss the nature of lethal gas as a form of capital punishment. The execution protocol for most jurisdictions authorizes the use of a steel airtight execution chamber, equipped with a chair and attached restraints. The inmate is restrained at his chest, waist, arms, and ankles, and wears a mask during the execution. The chair is equipped with a metal container beneath the seat. Cyanide pellets are placed in this container. A metal canister is on the floor under the container filled with a sulfuric acid solution. There are three executioners, and each executioner turns one key.
When the three keys are turned, an electric switch causes the bottom of the cyanide container to open allowing the cyanide to fall into the sulfuric acid solution, producing a lethal gas. Unconsciousness can occur within a few seconds if the prisoner takes a deep breath. However, if he or she holds their breath death can take much longer, and the prisoner usually goes into wild convulsions. A heart monitor attached to the inmate is read in the control room, and after the warden pronounces the inmate dead, ammonia is pumped into the execution chamber to neutralize the gas.
Exhaust fans then remove the inert fumes from the chamber into two scrubbers that contain water and serve as a neutralizing agent. The neutralizing process takes approximately 30 minutes from the time the offender’s death is determined. Death is estimated to usually occur within 6 to 18 minutes of the lethal gas emissions. To me, this seems like the slowest, most unattractive way to execute a prisoner. Whenever the method involves the inmate convulsing uncontrollably, some other form needs to be a priority.
The most common problems encountered are the obvious agony suffered by the inmate and the length of time to cause death. The use of a gas chamber for execution was inspired by the use of poisonous gas in World War I, as well as the popularity of the gas oven as a means of suicide. Nevada became the first state to adopt execution by lethal gas in 1924 and carried out the first execution in 1924. Since then it has served as the means of carrying out the death sentence 31 times. Lethal gas was seen as an improvement over other forms of execution, because it was less violent and did not disfigure or mutilate the body.
Yet, this also is clearly the slowest process of execution to date. Only 4 states, Arizona, California, Missouri, and Wyoming, currently authorize lethal gas as a method of execution, all as an alternative to lethal injection, depending upon the choice of the inmate, the date of the execution or sentence, or the possibility of lethal injection being held unconstitutional. As of April 1, 2008, 11 of 1,099 executions performed since 1976 have been by the administration of lethal gas. Most recently, Walter LeGrand elected Lethal Gas in Arizona on March 3, 1999.
Next, I want to examine the age old form of execution by hanging. Prior to any execution, the gallows area trap door and release mechanisms are inspected for proper operation. The rope, which is of manila hemp of at least 3/4″and not more than 1 1/4″in diameter and approximately 30 feet in length, is soaked and then stretched while drying to eliminate any spring, stiffness, or tendency to coil. The hangman’s knot, which is tied pursuant to military regulations, is treated with wax, soap, or clear oil, to ensure that the rope slides smoothly through the knot.
The end of the rope which does not contain the noose is tied to a grommet in the ceiling and then is tied off to a metal T-shaped bracket, which takes the force delivered by the offender’s drop. Also, prior to an execution, the condemned offender’s file is reviewed to determine if there are any unusual characteristics the offender possesses that might warrant deviation from field instructions on hanging. A physical examination and measuring process is conducted to assure almost instant death and a minimum of bruising. If careful measuring and planning is not done, strangulation, obstructed blood flow, or beheading could result.
At the appropriate time on execution day, the inmate, in restraints, is escorted to the gallows area and is placed standing over a hinged trap door from which the offender will be dropped. Following the offender’s last statement, a hood is placed over the offender’s head. Restraints are also applied. If the offender refuses to stand or cannot stand, he is placed on a collapse board. A determination of the proper amount of the drop of the condemned offender through the trap door is calculated using a standard military execution chart for hanging.
The drop must be based on the prisoner’s weight, to deliver 1260 pounds of force to the neck. The noose is then placed snugly around the convict’s neck, behind his or her left ear, which will cause the neck to snap. The trap door then opens, and the convict drops. If properly done, death is caused by dislocation of the third and fourth cervical vertebrae, or by asphyxiation. Hanging is the oldest method of execution in the United States, but fell into disfavor in the 20th century after many botched attempts, and was replaced by electrocution as the most common method.
There have been only 3 executions by hanging since 1977: Westley Dodd, Charles Campbell, and Billy Bailey. Hanging has been performed around the world for centuries. It can be a process that many people can observe, especially if administered in a large outdoor area where many people could view. Only 3 states, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Washington, currently authorize hanging as a method of execution, all as an alternative to lethal injection, depending upon the choice of the inmate, whether injection is “impractical, or the possibility of lethal injection being held unconstitutional.
Finally, the last method of capital punishment in the United States is the firing squad. Traditional firing squad is made up of three to six shooters per prisoner who stand or kneel opposite the condemned who is usually tied to a chair or to a stake. Normally the shooters aim at the chest, since this is easier to hit than the head, causing rupture of the heart, great vessels, and lungs so that the condemned person dies of hemorrhage and shock. It is not unusual for the officer in charge to have to give the prisoner a pistol shot to the head to finish them off after the initial volley has failed to kill them.
The Utah statute authorizing execution by firing squad only provides: “If the judgment of death is to be carried out by shooting, the executive director of the department or his designee shall select a five-person firing squad of peace officers. ” At the appropriate time, the condemned offender is led to the execution area or chamber, which is used for both lethal injection and firing squad executions. The offender is placed in a specially designed chair which has a pan beneath it to catch and conceal blood and other fluids. Restraints are applied to the offender’s arms, legs, chest and head.
A head restraint is applied loosely around the offender’s neck to hold his neck and head in an upright position. The offender is dressed in a dark blue outfit with a white cloth circle attached by Velcro to the area over the offender’s heart. Behind the offender are sandbags to absorb the volley and prevent ricochets. Approximately 20 feet directly in front of the offender is a wall. This wall has firing ports for each member of the firing squad. The weapons used are 30-30 caliber rifles. No special ammunition is used. Following the offender’s statement, a hood is placed over the offender’s head. The warden leaves the room.
The firing squad members stand in the firing position. They support their rifles on the platform rests. With their rifle barrels in the firing ports, the team members sight through open sights on the white cloth circle on the offender’s chest. On the command to fire, the squad fires simultaneously. One squad member has a blank charge in his weapon but no member knows which member is designated to receive this blank charge. It’s interesting that one firing squad officer has blank ammunition. This uncertainty of who is actually executing the prisoner is unique to other forms of capital punishment, which usually have one known executioner.
In recent history only two inmates have been executed by firing squad, both in Utah: Gary Gilmore (1977) and John Albert Taylor (1996). While the method was popular with the military in times of war, there has been one such execution since the Civil War: Private Eddie Slovak in WWII. Only 3 states, Idaho, Oklahoma, and Utah, currently authorize shooting as a method of execution, all as an alternative to lethal injection, depending upon the choice of the inmate, whether injection is impractical, or the possibility of lethal injection being held unconstitutional.
As of April 1, 2008, 2 of 1,099 executions performed since 1976 have been by firing squad. Most recently, John Albert Taylor elected a Firing Squad in Utah on January 27, 1996. All of these various forms of capital punishment serve their purpose, either culturally based on the time in which they were administered, or the technological advances in which we have developed to make capital punishment more humane and possible. Each method serves its own purpose, and will eventually get the job done.
It’s interesting that each form described above have all been performed in Texas at one point or another. Texas is the leading state as far as annual executions of prisoners. Research examining the casual relations among execution risk, execution newspaper publicity, and incidents of murder in Houston, Texas from January 1990 to December 1994 was conducted by using monthly data and fully recursive vector ARMA statistical procedure. The three general questions addressed were: “First, does the number of monthly executions decrease murder incidents?
If people are rational actors who weigh the likely costs and benefits of their behavior before engaging in criminal activity as deterrence advocates suggest, an inverse relationship between execution risk and murder incidents is anticipated. Conversely, if the brutalization thesis has any merit, we expect to observe a positive relationship between execution risk and murder incidents. Second, does high levels of murder incidents impact execution risk? It is plausible that high levels of murder drain the finite resources of the criminal justice system, thereby making the apprehension, prosecution, and execution of offenders less certain.
It is also possible that high murder rates amplify public fear of crime, which in turn evokes a more punitive response on the part of prosecutors and judges in their handling of criminal cases. Third, if causality flows in both directions, what is the relative magnitude of the effects of execution risk on murder incidents and murder incidents on execution risk? ” The examination tried to determine whether the newspaper publicity surrounding an execution affected the frequency of murder incidents. Since deterrence theory is a communicative theory, it seems logical to anticipate that such publicity influences murder rates.
According to the brutalization theory, heavy exposure to publicity surrounding executions would desensitize people or may provide them with violent models to imitate and in turn, raise the probability of violent behavior, including murder. The overload theory proffers that the certainty of execution declines as murder levels rise because of finite criminal justice resources. Finally, public choice theory asserts that high murder rates increase executions because of public pressure to get tough on crime.
The findings from the vector ARMA analyses fail to give credence to the theoretical importance of execution risk and execution newspaper publicity as factors in determining murder levels. No credible evidence that frequency of execution produces a consequential decrease in the number of murder incidents in the Houston area during the period under investigation was discerned. Regardless of the model used, the analyses found no evidence to support that frequency in newspaper publicity surrounding an execution had any tangible effect on changes in murder incidents over time.
Also, the findings contravene the assertion that executions devalue human life and legitimize lethal violence. The only persistent finding in the present study is that there is a negative and delayed effect of murder incidents on execution risk. The study takes into account the fact there is a period of time before an incident occurs until the time that the execution is carried out. The main assertion of this paper is that there the pool of death eligible offenders is affected by an increase in murder incidents in such a way so as to slow the prosecution process and thus ultimately decrease the frequency of execution.
An interesting and unique feature of capital cases is that in all states with a death penalty (except South Carolina) a death sentence is appealed automatically to the state’s court of last resort. Direct appeals of capital cases only pertain to legal and constitutional errors that may have occurred during the trial itself, for example, a ruling that was made by a judge during a trial. Recent research suggests that the direct appeal of capital cases is acting as a “bottleneck in the overall prosecution of capital cases.
It is believed that these direct appeals are placing a significant burden on state supreme courts to the exclusion of other cases. The evidence in this study is that the frequency of homicide has an immediate impact on executions. However, the question as to why it has such a quick effect still remains. The most reasonable answer to this question is that the increased workload engendered by direct appeals is impeding state supreme courts ability to review the vast number of habeas corpus petitions that they receive each year.
Habeas corpus appeals are different than direct appeals in that the individual making that appeal is already on death row awaiting execution. Habeas corpus appeals also afford defense lawyers the opportunity to approach the issues for outside the trial record, such as allegations of incompetent counsel, suppression of evidence and constitutional matters. Nevertheless, both types of appeals are extremely complex and require an enormous amount of time from the state supreme court to review the case related material.
Also, the pressure to prosecute new capital cases, which naturally results from an increase in the number of homicides, reduces the state’s ability to retry and re-sentence death row inmates who had their cases overturned in direct and habeas corpus appeals. (Kent’s portion follows) If we execute murderers and there is no deterrent effect we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers and by doing so we would have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I myself would much rather risk the executions to me this is not a tough call. John McAams, Marquette University} In Texas Americas most law and order state the number of death row inmates is decreasing. This trend is possibly an indicator that death row and the death penalty has a deterrent effect on homicides in the state of Texas. Texas a long time pro-death state sends about a dozen inmates every year to death row. Last year only nine inmates received death sentences in Texas courts, the lowest number handed out since 1976, that number is down from nearly 30 death sentences in 2003 Any number of factors may be responsible for the decline in Texas, New Mexico outlawed the death penalty last year.
Many other states are also considering abandoning the death penalty. Some reasons that have been cited are wrongful convictions, the high cost of litigation and also the availability of life in prison without parole, which has only been an option since 2005. Prior to 2005 the Texas code offered only death or life with a possibility of release after an inmate had served twenty-five years. The public seems to be in favor especially the Houston area in support for the death penalty being dropped, in 2007, 59% of the voters agreed with the death penalty. That figure is down from 79% in 1993.
Over thirty states the U. S. Government and the U. S. Military have death penalty statutes. Close to twenty states don’t carry the death penalty. According to the Death Penalty Information Center states without the death penalty have consistently had lower murder rates. 10 of 12 states without the death penalty have homicide rates rates below the national avg. whereas 50% of states with the death penalty have homicide rates above the national avg. During the last 20 years the murder rate in states with the death penalty has been 48%-101% higher than states without the death penalty.
In the past 10 yrs. The number of executions in the U. S. has increased while the murder rate has declined. Is this decrease due to increase in executions? (“YES” “THE DEATH PENALTY DETERS”) (Wall St. Journal, June 21, 2002) STATES W/DEATH PENALTY STATES W/OUT DEATH PENALTY % OF MURDERS YR. % DIFFERENCE % OF MURDERS 9. 5 1990 4% 9. 16 9. 94 1991 7% 9. 27 9. 1 1992 10% 8. 63 9. 69 1993 10% 8. 81 9. 23 1994 17% 7. 88 8. 59 1995 27% 6. 78 7. 72 1996 44% 5. 37 7. 09 1997 42% 5. 00 . 51 1998 41% 4. 61 5. 86 1999 28% 4. 59 5. 70 2000 35% 4. 25 5. 82 2001 37% 4. 28 5. 82 2002 36% 4. 27 5. 91 2003 44% 4. 0 5. 71 2004 42% 4. 02 5. 87 2005 46% 4. 03 5. 9 2006 40% 4. 22 5. 83 2007 42% 4. 10 AVG. PER/100,000 CITIZENS The avg. # of murders in death penalty states was 5. 5 in 1999 compared to 3. 6 in non death penalty states.
If we look at states, which are next to each other where one is pro death penalty and one isn’t, again we see that the states without the death penalty have significantly fewer murders. If the facts are to be believed then YES, the death penalty deters murderers. In conclusion, in an effort to react to public pressure to get tough on crime, policymakers have typically sought to increase the severity of criminal penalties. The use of the death penalty is plays a key role in this endeavor. From 1973 to 1999 the number of offenders sentenced to death rose by more than 600 percent.
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