Future Dangerousness in Texas Death Penalty: A Content Analysis
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Future dangerousness in Texas death penalty cases was analyzed through content analysis of 18 transcripts from Texas capital cases from 2005 to 2015. A jury must determine whether the defendant is a future danger. The findings from extant literature guided the factors studied in the current research (i.e., heinousness of instant offense, terminology from special issue 1, guidance provided to jurors, expert witness testimony on future dangerousness, and mitigating and aggravating evidence). Two sets of cases were examined and compared; the first set consisted of the only nine cases in Texas resulting in a finding of no future danger during the specified decade. The second set of cases resulted in a finding of future danger and subsequently, a death sentence. This group of cases was matched to the first group using case characteristics. The primary assumption of this research was that salient factors, if any were found, would be different between the two groups of cases. Ultimately, the goal of the research was to assess whether the Texas death penalty scheme provided guided juror discretion and individualized sentencing, as mandated by Furman (1972).
The results provided some support for the conclusion that the current Texas death scheme involves guided juror discretion and individual sentencing as mandated in Furman (1972). It is important to note, however, that for most factors examined in relationship to guided juror discretion and individual sentences revealed no substantive differences between cases that did and did not result in a finding of future danger. Thus, whether the differences between these two sets of cases warrant a declaration that “the process is fair” is subjective and beyond the scope of this study; rather, it is simply concluded that some evidence exists, that at least in some death penalty cases, guided juror discretion and individual sentences were obtained.