NEW VOICES: Texas Judge Rules Death Penalty Unconstitutional

On March 4, Houston District Judge Kevin Fine granted a pretrial motion in a capital case and declared the death penalty in Texas unconstitutional. Judge Fine said the state’s law violates a defendant’s right to due process because of the risk of executing an innocent person. The judge based his ruling on studies around the country and in Texas that indicated, “it can only be concluded that innocent people have been executed….Are you willing to have your brother, your father, your mother be the sacrificial lamb, to be the innocent person executed so that we can have a death penalty so that we can execute those who are deserving of the death penalty?” The defendant’s defense attorneys were pleased with the judge’s decision, although they believe the ruling will be appealed and probably reversed. Sandra Guerra Thompson, professor at the University of Houston Law Center, said trial judges sometimes issue rulings that are unlikely to stand up on appeal to start a dialogue in the judicial branch. While Texas has consistently led the nation in annual executions, the state has followed a nationwide trend with a decline in new death sentences in 2009. UPDATE: Judge Fine decided to delay a final ruling on the motion until both sides have a chance to be heard. The defendant’s death penalty trial has been put on hold, and a hearing will be held on April 27.

(B. Rogers, “Judge declares death penalty unconstitutional,” Houston Chronicle, March 5, 2010). See Innocence and New Voices.