Deadly Speculation: Misleading Texas Capital Juries with false predictions of Future Dangerousness

Document Date: April 2, 2004

Only two states-Texas and Oregon, use the determining factor of “future dangerousness” during the death sentencing of a defendant. A new report by the Texas Defender’s Service found that in 95% of the cases where experts testified that a defendant was likely to be dangerous in the future, they were wrong. Read the Defender Service’s report here:

As excerpted from the executive summary of the report:

“There is increased recognition that the death penalty in Texas is plagued with failures and mistakes. This study-the most comprehensive review of accuracy of hired experts on future dangerousness-reveals a highly flawed component of the Texas sentencing process and calls into question the validity and fairness of many Texas death sentences.

We reviewed 155 cases in which Texas prosecutors used experts to predict a defendant’s future dangerousness. These experts were wrong 95% of the time.

Texas is the undisputed leader in executions among the thirty-eight states with death penalty statutes. Since reintroduction of the death penalty in 1976, Texas has been responsible for more than 35% of all executions in the United States and is responsible for one-half of the executions thus far in 2004.””

This study shows a serious flaw in the Texas sentencing stature-the mechanism for determining which convicted defendants should be executed. Texas requires a jury to guess a defendant’s “”future dangerousness””-the likelihood that the defendant will pose a continuing threat to society.

We conducted original research to determine if inmates sentenced to death did indeed pose a danger in their communities-i.e., prisons. By reviewing published opinions and gathering information from district attorney offices, we identified 155 inmates against whom prosecutors had presented expert predictions of future dangerousness and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Consistent with existing research regarding violence rates and future dangerousness and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice definition of “”serious assault,”” this study defines “”serious assaultive behavior”” as that which results in an injury requiring more than the administration of first aid (i.e. injury requiring more than a bandage).”

Read the report in its entirety here