Criminal Justice Reform: Testimony in Support of HB 252

My name is Jennifer Allmon, and I am the Executive Director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops testifying in support of HB 252. The Texas bishops support criminal justice reform that provides for compassionate treatment of prisoners, responds to the needs of victims of crime, and encourages rehabilitation and forgiveness for those re-entering society.

HB 252 removes directives that require judges and attorneys to lie to jurors about the level of unanimity required for a death sentence. The objective of the bill is to provide that any vote short of unanimity to answer a special issue in favor of death requires the jury to return a contrary answer with respect to future dangerousness or mitigation. We support this bill because it will improve the rights of jurists serving in death penalty sentencing cases.

The TCCB’s perspective on this bill is informed by our faith that calls for protection of human life from conception to natural death. Jesus, who himself was a sentenced to death and unjustly executed, forgave the thief on the cross who was guilty of heinous crimes. We join Pope Francis, who recently advocated for abolishing the death penalty in Fratelli Tutti: “[T]he death penalty is inadequate from a moral standpoint and no longer necessary from that of penal justice. There can be no stepping back from this position. Today we state clearly that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible’ and the Church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide.”

While we recognize the need to promote justice and redress for crimes, Texas has alternative means today to protect society from violence without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. Our state holds the tragic record for the most individuals executed since 1976. However, there are signs of hope. According to Catholics Mobilizing Network Against the Death Penalty, new death sentences in Texas have decreased precipitously since peaking in 1999, when juries sentenced 48 people to death.  Death sentences have remained in the single digits for the past five years. In 2019, juries imposed four new death sentences. HB 252 would help promote a culture of life in our state, true justice, and mercy. For the foregoing reasons, we respectively request you vote for HB 252.