In what may lead to a significant decline in death sentences, Texas will allow jurors in capital cases to choose life without the possibility of parole instead of death when they see fit, says the Christian Science Monitor. It may prove that even a law-and-order state like Texas is growing uneasy with the notion that the justice system is infallible when applying the death penalty. Others see it is a necessary tough-on-crime measure, one that ensures a convicted killer will never roam the streets again.
Texas joins 36 other death-penalty states in having the life-without-parole option. New Mexico, which has put only one person to death since 1974, is the only such state not to have the option. “Polling data shows that most people want a life-without-parole option,” says John Blume of the death penalty project at Cornell Law School. “But while support does drop for the death penalty, it doesn’t go away.” A main thing driving jury decisionmaking in capital cases, he says, is the misperception of how long a killer will spend in prison if sentenced to life with parole. His studies show that jurors significantly underestimate the length of a life-with-parole sentence. It’s true that Texas juries still want the death penalty for the worst of the worst, says Steve Hall of StandDown Texas, which advocates a moratorium on the death penalty.