A luxury is something we want, but do not need. It’s something inessential, expensive, and difficult to obtain. The trouble with luxuries is they can consume us. Often times breaking us financially. We can certainly live life without them . . . life will go on. The death penalty is becoming one such luxury. In a very insightful piece on capital punishment, criminal defense lawyer, Greg Westfall, described what he believed was the beginning of the end for the death penalty. I agree with his position since I’ve seen this developing myself defending capital murder defendants. A Bryan lawyer interested in capital litigation should seriously consider what Greg has to say on this important issue.
During the past 10-15 years litigation of death penalty cases has become more and more expensive. They’ve become more costly since capital defense attorneys are working harder and longer to exhaustively investigate mitigating evidence and present it to the “death qualified” jury. In fact, the United States Supreme Court, the American Bar Association, and the Texas guidelines for the defense of capital cases require such investigations. Defense lawyers are compelled to undertake these investigations “from the point of a defendant’s conception” to develop any evidence that might militate against the imposition of death. But even more significantly, the onus is on the courts to pay for such investigations. In other words, “We the People” are paying for capital litigation and it’s becoming very expensive. Advancements in brain science, for instance, are contributing to the cost of death penalty litigation. Since brain development after birth is driven more by experiences than genetics, brain research has shown childhood experiences of abuse and neglect damage the brain. This damage evidences itself in the behavior of capital defendants. Behavior like poor impulse control, aggressiveness, and lack of empathy or remorse. Imaging the brain, plus the expert needed to present this complicated evidence is very, very expensive indeed.
I agree with Greg when he said: “The death penalty, simply stated, is unnecessary . . . Everyone with any sense will agree that it doesn’t offer general deterrence . . . And anyone who works for [the Texas State Prison system] and has an ounce of integrity and honesty will admit that our prison system has no problem housing even the worst capital murders.” In other words, as juries become more receptive to scientific evidence that explains behavior and militates against the imposition of death, the death penalty may become a luxury “We the People” are no longer willing to afford.
Stephen Gustitis is a criminal defense lawyer in Bryan-College Station. He is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also a husband, father, and retired amateur bicycle racer.