Is Texas Death Penalty Unconstitutional?

That’s the question that District Judge Kevin Fine in Houston will be deciding in the next couple of weeks.  A hearing in the case of Texas v. Green, starting Monday, Dec. 6, will put the Lone Star State’s capital punishment system on trial, and by all accounts it will be a wide-ranging affair.  Evidence of the sentencing and execution of innocent men, the use of bogus science, and other egregious mistakes and examples of general incompetence will be considered to determine if the death penalty, as currently administered in Texas, is too prone to error to be allowed to continue.  (Green’s challenge to the Texas death penalty is here.)

The constitutionality of the death penalty in principle is NOT under consideration, just the way it is practiced.  The cases of Claude Jones, Cameron Todd Willingham, and Ernest Ray Willis will among the primary examples of how deeply flawed the practice of Texas capital punishment has become.  Well-intentioned reform efforts from, for example, the Texas Forensic Science Commission, have been smothered by political pressure, so maybe the courts can be the avenue for serious investigations into the major malfunctions of the Texas death penalty.

The state’s judicial system, with judges elected all the way up to and including the highest court, has not been known for courageous critical examinations of Texas justice, but evidence of wrongful convictions, wrongful death sentences, and wrongful executions may have – at last – become impossible to ignore or sweep under the rug.

Whatever the outcome of this hearing, it will be a welcome ray of sunlight on the dismally dysfunctional Texas death penalty.