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.


Anonymous DRJ said...

Maybe. It appeals to me to have a rule like you suggest but what if the accomplice (not the shooter) were the brains/motivator behind the crime?

Wed Dec 21, 10:23:00 PM  
Anonymous nk said...

Hey, DRJ!

I see your point. I also don't know what other factors in aggravation and mitigation were considered.

Wed Dec 21, 10:47:00 PM  
Anonymous DRJ said...

I don't know about this case either. My thought was about why we might want a law like this, but I agree the result seems unjust unless the accomplice planned the initial crime.

How could we fix this? Maybe require they be tried together, or tell the second jury what the co-conspirator's sentence was?

Thu Dec 22, 09:31:00 AM  
Anonymous DRJ said...

I'm slow but now I realize you are saying that equal justice requires us to give them equal sentences. I could live with that. So the first jury's verdict would be the maximum sentence any co-conspirator could receive, or would this only apply if the first verdict is for the shooter?

Thu Dec 22, 09:43:00 AM  
Anonymous DRJ said...

The shooter Reneau was sentenced to death and executed in 2002 for his role in this murder, but it's still a valid concern that there might be disparate sentences in cases like this.

Thu Dec 22, 09:58:00 AM  
Anonymous DRJ said...

Interestingly, Wood's case was sent back to the trial court because of the psychiatrist's testimony, not because of the law of parties.

Thu Dec 22, 10:22:00 AM  
Anonymous nk said...

So I got the story wrong? The shooter was executed, and I have no point. Never mind. (Call me Emily Litela.)

How are you, DRJ? Chicago is 45 degrees warmer today than it was on Monday, and I'm taking it easy shopping for odds and ends.

Thu Dec 22, 11:30:00 AM  
Anonymous DRJ said...

The psychiatrist in that case was a disgrace. Another example of why we should beware good intentions without principles. But enough about Trump.

We've had erratic weather, too. 70 degrees in the morning and 30 degrees at night. It's playing havoc with our health, not to mention our wardrobes. But it's a great time to be alive in a wonderful new year. Happy New Year, nk!

Mon Jan 02, 04:08:00 PM  
Anonymous nk said...

Happy New Year, DRJ!

Mon Jan 02, 06:49:00 PM  

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