Promote Criminal Justice Reform: Support HB 1340

My name is Rachana Chhin, and I am the Legislative Counsel of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops testifying in support of HB 1340. The TCCB 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 1340 eliminates the so-called “law of parties” for the death penalty, preventing the execution of a person who did not personally commit a murder. Under current Texas Penal Code 7.02(b), a person can be sentenced to death based on the criminal responsibility for conduct of another rather than their own conduct and intent. The TCCB supports this bill to limit the use of the death penalty.

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 the crimes of conspirators or accomplices, 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. Please support HB 1430 to promote a culture of life, due process, and true justice in Texas.