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United States of America; The Death Penalty in Texas: Lethal Injustice

NCJ Number
Date Published
30 pages
This study by Amnesty International analyzes Texas' compliance with international human rights standards in its procedures for administering capital punishment.
Texas executes more people than any other jurisdiction in the Western world; of the 74 executions conducted in the United States during 1997, one-half (37) occurred in Texas, a record number since the reintroduction of the death penalty. In addition, Texas' legal procedures for administering the death penalty fail to meet minimum international standards for the protection of human rights. Texas executes people without first ensuring that their conviction and sentence were within the requirements of the U.S. Constitution by completing the appeal process. Further, there is a low standard of legal representation afforded at trial to many of those facing the death penalty in Texas. This is compounded by the appeal courts' unwillingness to examine adequately the fairness and constitutionality of death row inmates' convictions and sentences. Also, the death penalty is applied with racial bias; those accused of the murder of a white victim are far more likely to face a death sentence than in cases involving a black victim. Public support for the death penalty in Texas remains strong, undermining any political will that might ensure the provision of competent and adequate legal aid for indigent defendants on trial for their lives. There is no statewide system of legal aid in Texas and no standards of competence for court-appointed defense attorneys, even in capital cases. Until 1996 most reversals of U.S. death sentences occurred in Federal courts, which found defects in the trial that merited reversal in approximately 40 percent of appeals; however, the situation has changed dramatically with the implementation of a new Federal statute, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The intent behind the new statute is to increase the number of executions by imposing strict time limits on appeals, to restrict access for prisoners to the Federal courts, and to empower the State courts to redress any constitutional violations. Federal courts are now directed to show deference to State court findings. Recommendations are offered for addressing the aforementioned human rights violations in the administration of Texas' death penalty.