On December 19, Dallas District Court Judge Teresa Hawthorne held that Texas’s death penalty was unconstitutional because it could lead to death sentences that were arbitrarily sought and obtained. In ruling in favor of a defense motion, Judge Hawthorne acknowledged that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and other courts have upheld the statute, but judges still have the obligation to review the law based on its current practice. The judge found parts of Texas’s statute regarding findings of future dangerousness and the definition of mitigating evidence to be vague or misleading. The prosecution has filed a motion to recuse Judge Hawthorne from the case. In 2010, another Texas judge, Kevin Fine of Harris County, found the same statute unconstitutional because it posed too great a risk of resulting in the execution of an innocent person. Judge Fine withdrew his ruling and began hearings on the issue until ordered to stop by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. UPDATE: Judge Hawthorne was required to recuse herself from the trial, though her constitutional ruling may still stand.

(J. Emily, “Dallas criminal courts judge rules death penalty unconstitutional,” Dallas Morning News, December 24, 2011). See Arbitrariness and New Voices. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state death penalty laws in 1972 because they allowed for arbitrary application. Former Justice John Paul Stevens recently remarked that he regretted approving the new Texas statute that was passed in response to the Court’s ruling.