November 26, 2013
HB 81 Analysis: Capital Punishment Against Minors
There has been an interesting debate on how the state of Texas views on the appropriate punishment for minors who have committed capital felonies. They want to prosecute in a suitable gesture, but also be morally and ethically fair for the young defendant. In most cases, should state legislature issue the death penalty for those who are under the age of 18 and have committed capital felonies. The state legislature has come up with a bill to present the minors their consequences when prosecuted. It states that the individual will be appointed by the judge or jury and they will sentence the defendant on accounts of a First Degree Felony. Depending the age and the severity of the offense, the jury shall consider the factors of mental issues, peer pressure, family history, school background, and the overall environment the minor faces on a regular basis to come to a final ruling of the case. These factors can be relevant to the reason why the defendant committed any capital felony.
The Texas legislative system works slowly and HB 81 was introduced just this past summer by democrat, Lon Burnam. Due to it being a relatively new piece of legislation, there have
not been any bureaucratic agencies that have taken interest in the bill. With that said, the media has also not taken much of an interest in this yet. As for polling purposes, the bill was filed by Burnam to the house on 6/17/2013 and it failed on the very first stage. Once the bill in underway and a discussion starts over the bill the more we will probably see more bureaucratic agencies and the media taking an interest and stance. Burnam has served the Texas House of Representatives, representing District 90 since 1997. As for credentials, Burnam graduated with a Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from the University of Texas at Arlington. He serves on the
Advisory Board of the Texas Coalition to abolish the death penalty and other numerous boards and committees. His legislative work mainly focuses on consumer issues, energy, fair taxation, environmental issues, and antidiscrimination.
Based on Burnam’s roles in society, it can be inferred that his main goal is to abolish the death penalty altogether. Burnam views capital punishment as unconstitutional and inhumane and it is evident that he will do anything he can legally to end unjust punishment. The motivation that drove Burnam to write this bill was to simply target an aspect of the death penalty, and break it down anyway he could (in this case, helping reduce the number of death sentences for minors).
This would prove to be a simple, yet very powerful first step to achieving his goal.
In a historical context, it is speculated that the Texas execution rate reflects a heritage of frontier justice coupled with modern urban crime. More concretely, James W. Marquart, Sheldon
EklandOlson, and Jonathan R. Sorensen authors of The Rope, the Chair and the Needle: Capital
Punishment in Texas, 19231990, state that execution rates in the south are a “cultural tradition of exclusion,” and that “such exclusion was a basic element of the legacy of slavery.” In a legal context however, Texas’ appellate judges are elected to office and statistically require a record of
toughness in order to be reelected by the people. Brent Newton in an article entitled “Capital
Punishment: Texas Could Learn a Lot from Florida,” starts that “the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals has refused to publish most of its decisions in death penalty cases, including many cases that discuss important issues of first impression. Often these opinions take positions entirely inconsistent with prior decisions by the court and fail to mention the conflict. Generally speaking,