Why are counties the key to ending 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 in the State of Texas.
- 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 206 people currently on death row: Harris (77 individuals); Dallas (19); and Tarrant (16). No other county has more than seven individuals on death row at this time.
- The current death row population of Texas comes from fewer than 50 counties.
Since 2016, 16 counties have imposed a death sentence.
Only three counties in Texas (Harris, Tarrant, and Walker counties) have imposed more than one death sentence in the last five years.
See TCADP’s report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2020: The Year in Review, for details.
- For examples of what the cost of the death penalty looks like on the county level, download TCADP’s fact sheet on cost.
Fact sheets from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition
“Capital Punishment: The State of the Death Penalty in Tarrant County and Texas,” blog post by Varghese Summersett PLLC, Fort Worth, Texas
“Experts discuss cost of the death penalty amid era of growing decline,” Community Impact Newspaper (Richardson edition), March 18, 2020
“Some TX prosecutors have stopped asking for death sentences. Tarrant County’s have not.” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 17, 2019
“Death penalty, executions grow rarer statewide, though McLennan County cases are pending,” Waco Tribune-Herald, December 17, 2019
The 2% Death Penalty from the Death Penalty Information Center
Too Broken to Fix: An In-depth Look at America’s Outlier Death Penalty Counties Part I and Part II from The Fair Punishment Project
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 use of the death penalty in your county; these include 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 us about providing information on the death penalty at these events.
- In an individual capacity, work on a local campaign. This is a great way to build relationships with elected officials and other political activists in your community.
- Note TCADP is a 501(c)(3) organization, which means that we do not get involved in political campaigns or endorse candidates. We also are strictly non-partisan.
- Schedule a meeting with your current 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.