Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, Feb. 3, 2003
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez
Phone: (512) 463-0127
Third Option Proposed to Toughen Capital Crime Punishment
Texas would join 46 states
AUSTIN, TX--Today state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) filed his life without parole bill, Senate Bill 348, a TOUGH ON CRIME measure that would enhance the ability of the state to permanently remove dangerous criminals from Texas' streets.
In Texas, persons convicted of a capital felony offense (e.g., capital murder) can be punished with a sentence of life in prison or they can be sentenced to death. However, under current Texas law, a person sentenced to life in prison may become eligible for parole after serving 40 years. The law can be problematic for juries who do not believe that the defendant should be sentenced to death, but who also oppose parole.
SB 348 would give jurors, for the first time in Texas history, a third option of a "true" life sentence with no possibility of parole. The legislation also adds a sentencing option of life without parole in capital cases where the state does not seek the death penalty.
"Texas jurors should be offered every option when making one of the most important decisions that our judicial system has to make," said Sen. Lucio. "This bill is tough on crime because it would help ensure our state's goal that violent criminals, who prove to be a future danger to society, are never released back into society."
Currently 46 states offer life without parole as a sentencing option. Moreover, 35 of the 38 states that allow the death penalty offer life without parole as a sentencing option. Texas is one of only four states in the nation that does not offer life without parole.
Last session, Sen. Lucio filed a life without parole bill, which passed in the Senate but was defeated late in the session on the floor of the House.
SB 348 would help guide a jury's deliberations and ensure 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, without weakening our penal system."
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.
"The legislation would provide every victim's family closure in that they won't have to relive the pain through the parole process," explained the bill's author. "These families, who have suffered enough, would have the certainty that the murderer will never get out of prison."
Sen. Lucio is also addressing a call by the public for such a measure, since a June 2002 Fort Worth Star-Telegram story on the Scripps Howard Texas Poll reported that 73 percent of Texans favor changing the law to allow life without parole.
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? A mitigating circumstance is evidence that would permit a juror to determine that a death sentence is not necessary, including a defendant's background and character.
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 years.
"It is time for Texans to have this option while staying tough on crime," stated Sen. Lucio. "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. Laura Garcia, general counsel.