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Although this guide focuses primarily on death penalty law in Texas, more general resources are also included:
Texas procedure generally
In Texas, the district courts have original jurisdiction for all criminal felony cases. If an individual is convicted of a capital felony, he or she may be subject to punishment by death, if the State sought such punishment. A capital felony is one in which an individual "intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual," under special circumstances. In particular, the:
In Texas, a person must be of at least 18 years of age at the time of the crime to have the death penalty imposed upon him or her.2
After the verdict is rendered, if the defendant is found guilty, the case is automatically appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals.3
If the prisoner loses in the Court of Criminal Appeals, he/she may then appeal the case to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and then finally to the United States Supreme Court.
When the entire appeals process has been exhausted, the Governor of the State of Texas still may have a limited power to grant clemency to the prisoner. In capital cases, the Governor has the constitutional authority to grant an offender one 30-day reprieve of a scheduled execution without a recommendation from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Upon recommendation from the Board, the Governor may grant one or more reprieves in a capital case for any period of time that does not exceed the period recommended by the Board members.4 If the prisoner submits a timely request for a reprieve of execution, the Board must determine, by majority vote, whether to recommend to the Governor that a reprieve be granted. Similarly, if a death row inmate files a timely petition to the Board for a commutation of sentence to a lesser punishment, such as life imprisonment, the Board will vote on whether to recommend the commutation to the Governor.5
Method of execution
Between 1819 and 1923, Texas executed its death row prisoners by hanging. Then, from 1924 to 1977, the electric chair became the legal means of execution. In 1977, execution by lethal injection became the legal method of enacting the death penalty in Texas. The first prisoner executed by lethal injection in the United States took place in Texas in 1982.6
Lethal injection uses a solution consisting of sodium thiopental (a lethal dose to sedate the person), pancuronium bromide (a muscle relaxant which collapses the diaphragm and lungs), and potassium chloride (which stops the heartbeat). Other states utilize lethal gas, electrocution, hanging, or a firing squad.7
1 See Penal Code, Sec. 19.03, and for more information see the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Death Row website.
2 See the Texas Penal Code, Sec. 8.07(c).
5 See the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles website.
6 For a more detailed history of capital punishment in Texas, see the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's webpage, "History."
7 For more facts about the Death Penalty in Texas and in the United States see the Death Penalty Information Center website and The Texas Department of Criminal Justice's website.