From the Office of State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., District 27
For Immediate Release
Thursday, May 3, 2001
Contact: Doris Sanchez
Senate passes bill by Sen. Lucio giving jurors a third sentencing option in capital crime cases for the first time in Texas' history
AUSTIN, TX--For the first time in Texas history jurors will have a third sentencing option of life without parole in capital murder cases due to Senate Bill 85 by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, that passed today in the full Senate.
Currently, Texas law allows jurors to give a defendant either a life sentence (eligible for parole in 40 years) or the death penalty upon conviction for a capital crime.
"SB 85 would give jurors yet another option, life without parole, to guide their deliberations and insure that they have all the tools they need to render the important decision that they must unanimously make," said Sen. Lucio. "Since each defendant and each crime is unique, jurors should be equipped with all available options in order to select which punishment appropriately fits the crime."
This measure does not in any way replace the death penalty, nor does it run against the state's standards of law and order. Approximately 90 percent of capital cases do not result in a death penalty, and families of victims receive no closure, knowing that parole is a possibility. Many Senators agree with Sen. Lucio that life without parole would address this problem.
Sen. Lucio is also addressing a call by the public for such a measure, since polls indicate three-fourths of the people in the state favor adding this third sentencing option. Also, many offenders today are as young as 18 years of age, and with parole eligibility in 40 years, these people could be walking the streets at the age of 58.
"A person at the age of 58 could still be a danger to society, and I feel SB 85 will protect our neighborhoods, while giving closure to families," explained Sen. Lucio. "Also, many jurors are reluctant to sentence a violent criminal to the death penalty who is young, and their only recourse under current law is to give them life with parole."
Last session Sen. Lucio passed a law that would allow juries to know that, under Texas law, a life sentence allows an inmate convicted of capital murder to be eligible for parole in 40 years. Prior to the passage of this law, juries were often not informed that a life sentence meant that the person was still eligible for parole, and this was one step in giving jurors all the available tools to aid them in their deliberations.
The proposed law in no way impedes prosecutors from seeking the death penalty nor does it prevent judges from asking the same questions they currently ask jurors in the punishment phase of a capital murder trial. The two questions are: 1) Is this defendant a future danger to society? and 2) Are there mitigating factors present to spare the defendant's life?
For example, under the proposed bill, if the jury answers yes to the first question, that the defendant is a future danger, and no to the second, that there are no mitigating factors that warrant a lesser sentence, then the judge will sentence the defendant to death. If the jury answers affirmatively to future dangerousness and to mitigating factors, then the judge will sentence the defendant to life without parole.
The only change to current law is that a person will receive life without parole if the jury finds mitigating circumstances. Presently, if a jury answers no to future dangerousness, then the defendant automatically receives life as we know it today, with eligibility for parole in 40. Currently, 45 states have life without parole, of which 35 also have the death penalty.
"I feel strongly that if someone is clearly a future danger to society and there are no mitigating factors, then, in my opinion, the death penalty is the appropriate sentence," added Sen. Lucio. "But, if a jury finds that there are mitigating factors in favor of sparing someone's life, then the person would be put in prison for the rest of his life with no possibility of parole.
"It is time for Texans to have this option, and I trust our juries make and will continue to make fair and just decisions. This bill should in no way alter the death penalty, but it will ensure safer streets and justice for the victims of crime and their families."
Note: Staff member handling legislation is Ms. Cristina Nelson, legislative aide.