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NCJ Number: 135771 Find in a Library
Title: Walking a Constitutional Tightrope: Discretion Guidance and the Texas Capital Sentencing Scheme
Journal: Houston Law Review  Volume:28  Issue:3  Dated:(May 1991)  Pages:663-716
Author(s): S Fitzgerald
Date Published: 1991
Page Count: 54
Type: Legislation/Policy Analysis
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: In the context of an assessment of the Texas capital sentencing scheme, this article proposes a framework for deciding what aspects of mitigating evidence the U.S. Constitution requires sentencers to consider as relevant in granting mercy in capital sentencing.
Abstract: Since its inception, the Texas capital sentencing scheme has had difficulty in complying with two somewhat contradictory capital sentencing principles. First, a capital sentencing scheme must provide sentencers with objective guidance to ensure consistent, nonarbitrary sentencing decisions. Simultaneously, the scheme must provide opportunity for defendants to present individualized mitigating circumstances relevant to sentencing. By allowing Texas jurors to consider a defendant's mitigating circumstances only in determining the existence of three aggravating factors, the Texas special issues severely limit a jury's ability to grant mercy. Although the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the facial validity of the Texas statute in Jurek v. Texas, subsequent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have expanded the capital defendant's right to an individualized sentence. In Penry v. Lynaugh, the U.S. Supreme court held that the special issues alone prevented full jury consideration of Penry's mitigating circumstances of mental retardation and background of abuse. In suggesting amendments to the current Texas capital punishment statute, this article proposes that a fourth special issue be added that would allow the jury to consider any and all mitigating circumstances presented and force the jury to weigh the combined mitigating weight of those circumstances against the combined aggravating weight of their answers to the prior special issues. 389 footnotes
Main Term(s): Capital punishment; Sentencing factors
Index Term(s): Texas; US Supreme Court decisions
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