Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Execution Stays Granted Doubled Last Year

Texas criminal appeals attorney Mick Mickelsen discusses statistics showing the number of execution stays offered by the state’s high court increased dramatically in 2015.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted double the number of execution stays last year than any other year in the last decade new reports say, which comes as a major surprise to many due to the state’s conservative repute.

Source: Yahoo News Report “Texas’ top criminal court gives more death row stays in ’15”
“AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ highest criminal court halted more executions in 2015 than in any of the last nine years, which some legal experts say is a sign of a legal shift in the nation’s most active death penalty state.”

The state has garnered a reputation for having a record number of executions to occur year after year throughout history. Even with the noticeable decline in executions, the number that occurred in 2015 was still higher than in any other state nationwide. Of the 28 executions that took place in 2015 across the United States, 13 occurred in Texas.

Source: PBS Report “Why is Texas #1 in Executions?”

“There are many legal and cultural explanations for why Texas executes far more people than any other state and is doing so at a pace that has no parallel in the modern era of the death penalty in the U.S… Texas has become ground zero for capital punishment. Between 1976 (when the Supreme Court lifted its prohibition on the death penalty) and 1998 Texas executed 167 people. Next in rank was Virginia which executed 60 during the same period.”

To read more visit http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/execution/readings/texas.html.

Reports also say that in 2015, the state’s high court granted stays to eight inmates who had been sentenced to be executed, which is the highest number reported since 2007. According to Texas criminal appeals lawyer Mick Mickelsen, execution stays are critical for inmates who may be entitled to a different outcome than warranted by an initial trial. Says the Dallas based criminal defense lawyer, ” statistics show that Texas has been a national leader in the number of exonerations of defendants who were wrongfully convicted. There is no turning back once someone has been executed, therefore it is important that defendants are given every reasonable chance to have a proper and thorough review of their case during appeal.”

A Changing Landscape for Texas Criminal Appeals?

The recent reports have led some to now question whether changing attitudes on a national scale will influence changes in the Texas legal system in the years to come.

Some experts suggest the dramatic increase in Texas execution stays may be in part due to new members being appointed to the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals. Others say a national shift in attitudes may also be having an impact.

Lee Kovarsky, a University of Maryland law professor, is quoted by the AP as stating of the issue “I strongly suspect that the (Court of Criminal Appeals) would still rank very close to the pole representing the least hospitable areas, although the spectrum itself may have shifted a little… I think the drift of the court is certainly toward a little bit more caution in allowing executions to go forward.”

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