Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Death Penalty, Accomplice Liability, and Disparate Sentencing: A Texas Post

Jeffrey Wood sat in the get-away pickup while his accomplice went inside a gas station in Kerrville, Texas and robbed and murdered the clerk.  Wood is on death row, while his accomplice is serving a life sentence for the robbery and murder.

The linked article would like us to believe that accomplice liability is an anomaly in the law, and Texas is unusual in applying it.  I can tell you that it is not.  From what I see, Texas is a Model Penal Code state like Illinois, and the prevailing law, as I know it, is that when two or more persons enter into a criminal enterprise, each person is equally liable for the acts committed by any member of the enterprise during the course of the crime.  So Mr. Wood can be sentenced to death for the capital murder physically carried out by his accomplice.

But maybe he shouldn't be.  Not only because he was not the one who pulled the trigger, even though that is a factor in mitigation if not a dispositive factor.  Because his accomplice, the shooter, was not.  It is called disparate sentencing and it has been a winner for me in sentences far less severe that death.  People should receive, to the extent that it is possible given their backgrounds and other factors in aggravation and mitigation, the same sentence for the same crime.

It may be that the shooter should have gotten the death penalty, and it was a miscarriage of justice that he did not.  It does not matter.  The principle of equal justice under the law should require giving the same pass to Wood.