The State of Texas recognizes four classes of homicide: capital murder, murder, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
Texas does not recognize degrees of murder, such as first and second degree murder as most people are familiar with from television programs. The only difference between capital murder and murder in Texas is the punishment imposed for each. Capital murder is punished with either a life sentence without parole or the death penalty, while murder is punished with a prison term of 5 to 99 years or life imprisonment.
Since the 1976 reinstatement of the death penalty, Texas has put 529 prisoners to death. That’s 419 more than put to death in Virginia, the nation’s second leading death penalty state. The latest execution in Texas occurred on October 6, 2015 when Juan Garcia became the 11th person put to death this year in the state. Garcia was convicted a 1998 murder/robbery that netted a total of eight dollars.
Texas has carried out 82 executions since 2010, an average of about 16 per year. As of 2014, the state had 9,031 people serving life sentences (most for murder), making it the fourth leading state with the most lifers.
Capital Murder in Texas
Nine different kinds of homicide qualify as capital murder in Texas:
- The victim is a peace officer or fireman acting under their lawful duty at the time of the offense;
- The defendant intentionally commits the murder during the commission or attempted commission of a kidnapping, burglary, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction or retaliation, or terroristic threat;
- The defendant is paid to commit the murder or pays someone else to commit the murder;
- The murder occurs during an escape from a penal institution;
- An inmate, while incarcerated murders another A) who is an employee in prison operation, or B) with the intent to establish, maintain, or participate in a combination or in the profits of a combination;
- An inmate, while incarcerated for either capital murder or murder, A) kills another, or B) an inmate serving a life sentence or a term of 99 years for kidnapping, assaultive offenses, or aggravated;
- The defendant murders more than one person A) during the same criminal transaction, or B) during different criminal transactions but the murders are committed pursuant to the same scheme or course of conduct;
- The defendant murders a child under six years of age; or
- The defendant murders another person in retaliation for or on account of the service or status of the other person as a judge or justice.
Limits on the Death Penalty
There are three classes of people who are not eligible for the death penalty: 1) people with mental retardation, 2) people with severe mental illness, and 3) juveniles under the age of seventeen.
Federal Crimes and Capital Punishment
Since 2001, there have only been three federal executions carried out: Timothy McVeigh (June 11, 2001); Juan Raul Garza (June 19, 2001), and Louis Jones, Jr. (March 18, 2003). The previous federal execution before these three occurred in 1963. Altogether, the federal government has executed 37 persons since 1927—six of whom were German saboteurs executed in the electric chair on the same day (August 8) in 1942 in Washington, D.C.
There are three federal legislative enactments that provide for the modern federal death penalty: the 1984 Anti-Drug Abuse Act; the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Act; and the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. There are 60 offenses punishable by the death penalty under 41 federal statutes. These offenses fall into three broad categories defined by the U.S. Justice Department: 1) homicide offenses; 2) espionage and treason; and 3) non-homicidal narcotics offenses.
As of 2014, there were 62 inmates on federal death row at the maximum security federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. Some of them have committed murder on federal territory like federal parks or in the District of Columbia while others have been convicted of crimes like terrorism, espionage and assassination. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted for his role in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, is the most recent notable federal death row inmate.
Regardless of whether they are being prosecuted at the state or federal level, all murder charges are serious. You need the best possible defense on your side if you hope to obtain a positive outcome, and you need them to develop a defense strategy for you as soon as possible. If you need a dedicated and experienced defense attorney, contact us today