What Crimes Can Potentially Lead to the Death Penalty?
Texas is infamous for its use of the death penalty. This punishment is considered the most severe legal penalty that is available in the Texas Penal Code. As such, it is only an option in the most serious of legal cases. In fact, there is only one category of crime in which the death penalty is potentially applicable. Although it is a single category, it can apply to a number of different scenarios. This category is known as capital murder.
What Is Capital Murder?
In Section 19.03 of the Texas Penal Code, strict definitions are given to the types of killings that can legally be referred to as capital murder. Essentially, a person has to commit certain actions in the course of carrying out a murder in order to be considered eligible for a capital murder charge.
In most cases, a defendant will have to be found guilty of murder in the first degree in order to potentially be given the death penalty. This means that the prosecution will have to show that the defendant committed premeditated murder. As such, killings that are accidental, provoked, committed in a moment of passion or deaths that are the result of self-defense are usually not considered valid examples of capital murder.
Some of the crimes that can be considered capital murder include:
- Killing a police officer or fireman in the line of duty when the defendant knows that the victim is a peace officer
- A murder committed during the commission of a robbery, kidnapping, burglary, aggravated sexual assault, obstruction or retaliation, arson or terroristic threat
- Committing murder for remuneration or employing someone for murder for remuneration (murder for hire)
- A murder committed during an escape from a penal institution
- A murder of a prison inmate committed by an inmate as part of a collaboration, by an inmate on death row or by an inmate serving a life sentence
- Murder of a correctional officer by an inmate
- A person who kills more than one other person in one course of action
- A person who murders more than one person during separate but related actions
- Murder of a person under 10 years of age
- Retaliatory killing of a judge or justice or killing a judge or justice because of their status as a judge
Capital murder trials are very similar to any other type of jury trial in most respects. However, there are a few key differences. These cases are usually tried in district court and the defendant is usually held in jail until the trial begins. Bond is not offered in capital murder cases.
If the prosecution chooses to pursue the death penalty in a capital murder case, a new punishment phase of the trial will begin. If the prosecution does not seek the death penalty, the defendant will automatically be sentenced to a life term in prison.
Once the punishment phase of the trial begins, the same jury from the trial to determine guilt will be asked to answer a few questions. Before they are asked the questions, the prosecution and the defense will be allowed to present evidence and arguments for and against the application of the death penalty. After arguments and evidence have been presented, the jury will be asked:
- Whether the defendant is likely to continue to commit violent acts and pose a danger to society
- If the defendant was legally allowed to be convicted of capital murder as an accessory to a murder, whether or not the defendant actually killed anyone
- Whether there are any mitigating circumstances from the case or from the life and character of the defendant that warrant a life sentence instead of the death penalty
If the jury returns 12 unanimous votes in agreement with the first two questions, they will be asked the third question. If the answer to the third question is 12 unanimous votes against the presence of any mitigating circumstances, the judge will sentence the defendant to death by lethal injection. Any other outcome will lead to a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
There are two primary exceptions to the imposition of the death penalty in Texas. If the defendant is:
- Under 17 years of age
- Legally insane
A defendant who meets one or both of these requirements may not be subjected to the death penalty.
Hiring an attorney is the best strategy for attempting to avoid the death penalty in Texas. An attorney may be able to introduce new evidence, witnesses or material that show that defendant did not commit premeditated murder. Even after a guilty verdict has been issued, the fight doesn’t have to end. An attorney can help a convicted death row inmate to file appeals in an attempt to overturn their sentence or secure a new trial.
Have you been accused of capital murder? Contact the law office of Rand Mintzer today. We will fight hard to protect your rights and future. Call (713) 862-8880 or email for a free, confidential consultation.