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Monday, December 01, 2008

Law of Parties Reform Bill Filed in Texas Legislature

Ever since Kenneth Foster's commutation in 2007, we have been looking for a state legislator to file a bill ending the death penalty as a sentencing option for people convicted under the Law of Parties. Several state legislators wrote clemency letters on behalf of Foster and later again on behalf of Jeff Wood. Those letters criticized Texas' use of the death penalty against people who did not kill anyone but who were sentenced to death under the Law of Parties. Now, State Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston has filed HB 304, which would disallow prosecutors from seeking the death penalty in the future using the Law of Parties.

The anti-death penalty movement in Texas owes another big thank you to Rep. Dutton, who is often the first person in the Legislature to take up new criminal justice reform issues. In 2001, Dutton was the first person to file a moratorium and study commission bill. One of his moratorium bills that year made it to the floor of the Texas House and received more than 50 votes. In 2003, Dutton filed the first bill to abolish the death penalty in recent times. He has re-filed those bills each session since.

Below is the text of HB 304:

By: Dutton H.B. No. 304
A BILL TO BE ENTITLED
AN ACT
relating to the extent of a defendant's criminal responsibility for
the conduct of a co-conspirator in certain felony cases.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:
SECTION 1. Section 1, Article 37.071, Code of Criminal
Procedure, is amended to read as follows:
Sec. 1. (a) If a defendant is found guilty in a capital
felony case in which the state does not seek the death penalty, the
judge shall sentence the defendant to life imprisonment without
parole.
(b) A defendant who is found guilty in a capital felony case
only as a party under Section 7.02(b), Penal Code, may not be
sentenced to death, and the state may not seek the death penalty in
any case in which the defendant's liability is based solely on that
section.
SECTION 2. Section 2, Article 37.0711, Code of Criminal
Procedure, is amended to read as follows:
Sec. 2. (a) If a defendant is found guilty in a case in
which the state does not seek the death penalty, the judge shall
sentence the defendant to life imprisonment.
(b) A defendant who is found guilty in a capital felony case
only as a party under Section 7.02(b), Penal Code, may not be
sentenced to death, and the state may not seek the death penalty in
any case in which the defendant's liability is based solely on that
section.
SECTION 3. The change in law made by this Act applies to a
criminal proceeding that commences on or after the effective date
of this Act. A criminal proceeding that commences before the
effective date of this Act is governed by the law in effect when the
proceeding commenced, and the former law is continued in effect for
that purpose.
SECTION 4. This Act takes effect immediately if it receives
a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as
provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution. If this
Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this
Act takes effect September 1, 2009.

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