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.