November 29, 2006
Expanding the death penalty
Via DallasBlog, I see that Rep. Debbie "Pit of Hell" Riddle wants to expand the death penalty to crimes other than murder.
So far, two bills have been filed in the Texas Legislature that would make aggravated sexual assault of a child younger than 14 punishable by death if the defendant had been previously convicted of a similar crime. SB 68 by Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) and HB 8 by Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball) would require the death penalty even if the victim lived. This would represent a radical departure from present assumptions on the death penalty. In 1972 the US Supreme Court struck down then existing death penalty laws as too broad and therefore unconstitutional. Most experts believe that the Court would still strike down any application of the death penalty beyond the offense of murder. Critics of the idea also point out that applying the death penalty in non lethal assaults would all but guarantee the victim's murder as the victim is often the only eye witness. Still, the Court is moving right and the Texas law could prove to be a test case.
There are many reasons why this is a bad idea, beyond the one listed above. Both Grits
and Corey Yung
delve into them. What concerns me is that (as Will Lutz pointed out in the DB comments), the low number attached to Riddle's bill all but guarantees that it will come up for a vote. This is definitely something to watch as the session progresses.
If you want to do some more reading on this and related matters, Grits kindly pointed out the House Research Organization's report on Texas' sex offender laws (PDF). Since that report brings up the subject of "Jessica's Laws", be sure to also check out what their adoption would mean in practical terms.
UPDATE: More here.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 29, 2006 to Crime and Punishment
Several provisions of "Jessica's Law" are blatantly unconstitutional. Our elected officials who have proposed them know that. They are just hoping we don't, otherwise they can't maintain this illusion that they are protecting the public safety. California's version was thrown out almost immediately by a federal court just a few weeks ago. These draconian bills would literally banish thousands of Texans - no hearings, no fact finding, no appeal - from their homes and neighborhoods. These bills are written specifically to apply to all cases, not just new offenders, even to people who have been off of probation for years - tax-paying, voting citizens who follow the law.
Several questions arise here: when did the Legislature decide they had the authority to banish entire categories of citizens from the state, when were constitutional provisions like due process, equal protection and double jeopardy removed from the U.S. constitution, and where do they think these people - who have families and homes in Texas - are going to go?
I wrote a piece on this leading up to the election, for the SA Current. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Let's try that again