Texas fails to pass pre-trial death penalty reform regarding int

Texas fails to pass pre-trial death penalty reform regarding intellectual disabilities

Posted: Updated:
LUBBOCK, Texas -

For nearly 20 years, Texas has yet to define the term "intellectually disabled" in death penalty cases, as the U.S. Supreme Court gave states that authority in 2002.

Since then, Texas has executed 305 people on death row. 

However, Ray Keith, a regional public defender for capital cases, said he thinks that number is reflective of the legislature's failure on this issue. 

He said determining whether a defendant is intellectually disabled or not should not be dependent on an emotional jury. 

"You're asking that jury to first make a determination about whether someone is guilty or not of that crime, in which they see the gory video, the horrible pictures, and the autopsy photographs. You're then asking that same jury to step back in punishment and make an intellectual decision about whether or not someone is intellectually disabled," Keith said.

Twenty-four states have pre-trial statutes for intellectually-disabled defendants, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Keith said with Texas leaving the determination in the punishment phase, that leaves the door open for a decision made by bias, not medical purposes. 

"The only reason you'd want a jury to consider that is to slant them towards pushing them away from finding somebody intellectually disabled," Keith said.

A bill passed the House this session that would have given judges authority to make a pre-trial determination of whether or not someone is intellectually disabled. 

However, that bill ultimately reached its same outcome since 2002: Failure.

Keith said as long as Texas remains majority conservative, this process will likely remain. 

"Among your conservative legislators, they are always fearful that some rogue left-wing judge with an agenda against the death penalty is going to rule everyone as intellectually disabled," Keith said.
 

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