Texas Death Penalty Facts

The State of Texas has executed 537 people since 1982; of these, 279 occurred during the administration of Texas Governor Rick Perry (2001-2014), more than any other governor in U.S. history. Executions peaked in Texas in 2000, when 40 people were put to death.

In 2016, the State of Texas has put 6 people to death.

Harris County alone accounts for 126 executions, more than any state except Texas. Dallas County accounts for 55 executions, and Bexar accounts for 42.

Death Sentences
New death sentences in Texas have dropped nearly 80% since 1999. Juries condemned 3 new individuals to death in Texas in 2015.  Death sentences peaked in 1999, when juries sent 48 people to death row. In 2015, new death sentences fell to their lowest number since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Texas’ revised death penalty statute in 1976.

Just eight counties – 3% of the 254 counties in Texas – account for 70% of new death sentences since 2011.

Over the last five years, 60% of all new death sentences in Texas have been imposed on African-Americans.

While African-Americans comprise only 11.8% of the Texas population, they comprise 43.7% of death row inmates, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Hispanics comprise 27.3% and whites comprise 26.9% of the death row population.

As of May 16, 2016, TDCJ counted 245 death row inmates, which includes 6 women. This remains the lowest Texas death row population since the late 1980s, according to research by TCADP. More than one-third of these individuals were convicted in Harris County.  Texas has the third-largest death row population in the nation, after California (748) and Florida (388).

Wrongful Convictions and Executions
Since 1973, 156 individuals – including 13 people in Texas – have been released from death rows nationwide due to evidence of their wrongful conviction.

There also is significant evidence that the State of Texas has executed innocent people, including Carlos DeLuna, Ruben Cantu, and Cameron Todd Willingham.

In Texas, the cost of an average death penalty case is nearly three times higher than imprisoning someone in maximum security for life, according to a study by the Dallas Morning News.

Abolition on the National and International Levels
Seven states – Nebraska, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland – have abandoned the death penalty in recent years.  A total of 19 states and the District of Columbia do not allow the death penalty.

140 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.  In 2015, the top five executing countries were China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

Capital Punishment Resources 

The Cost of the Death Penalty Download PDF
Death Penalty Basics Download PDF
Facts about the Texas Death Penalty (four-page version), updated May 1, 2016 Download PDF
Facts about the Texas Death Penalty (one-page version), updated May 1, 2016 Download PDF
Anthony Graves Fact Sheet Download PDF
Carlos DeLuna Fact Sheet  Download PDF Spanish PDF
Cameron Todd Willingham Fact Sheet Download PDF
Background information on the Texas death penalty is available here.
Answering the Tough Questions Download PDF
Mental Illness Case Studies:
James Colburn (download PDF)
Monty Delk (download PDF)
Scott Panetti (download PDF)
Kelsey Patterson (download PDF)
Mental Illness Fact Sheet Download the MIDP Fact Sheet 03-08

Mental Illness and Capital Punishment in Texas

The State of Texas ranks 47th nationally in terms of per capita spending on mental healthcare, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). It ranks 1st in executions (more than 400 since 1982).

Around 30 percent of those incarcerated in Texas prison or jails have been clients of the state’s public mental health system. (Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

Mental illness can impact a defendant’s ability to communicate effectively with his/her attorney, participate in legal proceedings, make rational decisions, or behave appropriately in a courtroom. It also can impact his/her ability to assist with appeals.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the death penalty is unconstitutional for people with mental retardation (Atkins v. Virginia). It has not excluded offenders with severe mental illness from the death penalty.

In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Ford v. Wainwright that it is unconstitutional to execute someone who does not understand the reason for, or the reality of, his or her punishment. The Ford decision left the determination of competency for execution up to each state, however, and it has not prevented the execution of scores of offenders diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illnesses.

The Texas Legislature did not establish a statute governing the process to determine competency to be executed until 1999.

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which considers cases from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, has never found a death row inmate incompetent for execution. In a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Panetti vs. Quarterman, the justices ruled that “the Fifth Circuit’s incompetency standard is too restrictive to afford a prisoner Eighth Amendment protections.” At issue is the distinction between the prisoner’s “awareness” versus “rational understanding” of why she/he is to be executed.

At least 25 individuals with documented diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other persistent and severe mental illnesses have been executed by the State of Texas. Many had sought treatment before the commission of their crimes, but were denied long-term care.

Approximately 15-20% of Texas death row inmates receive ongoing mental health services. (Houston Chronicle, March 18, 2007)

The “insanity defense” is rarely used and rarely successful.  Less than one percent of all defendants raise the insanity defense; of these, even fewer defendants are found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. (Psychiatric Times, April, 2002)

The American Bar Association, The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Alliance on Mental illness have adopted a recommendation calling for a prohibition on the death penalty for those with severe mental disorders or disabilities.  Numerous mental health organizations in Texas also have condemned the execution of offenders with severe mental illness.