On this page, you will find information, statistics, and resources about the death penalty at the county level.
Counties are the Key to Ending the Death Penalty
Geography plays a determining role in the use of the death penalty.
“Between 2004 and 2009, for example, just 29 counties (fewer than 1% of counties in the country) accounted for approximately half of all death sentences imposed nationwide. And in 2012, just 59 counties (fewer than 2% of counties in the country) accounted for all death sentences imposed nationwide.”U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Glossip v. Gross dissent
Seeking the death penalty is at the discretion of the prosecutor. There are more than 200 elected County and District Attorneys (DA) in the State of Texas.
Three current DAs in Texas have endorsed a Joint Statement from Elected Prosecutors Pledging to Work Towards the Elimination of the Death Penalty, which was released by Fair and Justice Prosecution in early 2022.
Key Facts About the Use of the Death Penalty at the County Level
- Of the 254 counties in Texas, more than half have never imposed a death sentence.
- Just three counties account for more than half of the 195 people currently on death row: Harris (71 individuals); Dallas (18); and Tarrant (13). No other county has more than eight individuals on death row at this time.
- The rate of death sentencing has declined significantly over the last decade, reflecting the changing attitudes of jurors and prosecutors. This is true even in the two counties that historically account for the most death sentences and executions (Harris and Dallas counties).
- Voters in both Dallas and Harris counties prefer alternatives to the death penalty, according to polls.
- The current death row population of Texas comes from less than 50 counties.
- Just fifteen counties have imposed death sentences in the last five years. Of these, only three counties (Harris, Smith, and Walker) account for more than one new death sentence.
An Interactive History of Death Sentences in Texas
These interactive maps depict the use of the death penalty at the county level in Texas. As you’ll see, death sentences have been isolated to a small number of counties in the last decade. Scroll over each highlighted county for more information.
Death Sentences Imposed in the Last Five Years (2017-2021)
Death Sentences Imposed in the Last Ten Years (2012-2021)
Public Opinion on the Death Penalty
When asked which punishment they prefer for people convicted of first-degree murder, 75% of voters in Dallas opted for a sentence of life in prison with a possibility of parole after 20 or 40 years or life in prison without parole, according to a poll conducted in June 2021 by the independent research firm Public Policy Polling. Only 14% of all respondents prefer the death penalty.
According to the 2020 Houston Area Survey, conducted by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, when asked to choose their preferred punishment for persons convicted of first-degree murder, only 20% of Houstonians preferred the death penalty for such crimes.
What Can You Do?
There are many opportunities for civic and political engagement at the local level:
- Pay attention to important local elections that impact the use of the death penalty in your county, including candidates for district attorney, county judge and county commissioners, and state district judges.
- Participate in town hall meetings, candidate debates, open houses, and other forums to engage with candidates and elected officials; ask the candidates about their approach to criminal justice issues.
- Attend meetings of local political/civic groups.
- Attend precinct and district conventions (in the spring) and state political conventions (in the summer); contact TCADP about providing information on the death penalty at these events.
- Attend a capital trial taking place in your county to observe the proceedings. Contact TCADP for a copy of our Guidelines for Court Observers.
- Schedule a meeting with your state senator and state representative in their district offices; contact TCADP if you would like to learn more about your lawmakers and their position on death penalty issues. We also can connect you with other TCADP members in your district if you would like to organize a small delegation to join you for a meeting.
Note: As a 501(c)(3) organization, TCADP does not get involved in political campaigns or endorse candidates. We are strictly non-partisan.