Excessive Sentencing Project - Texas

Policies and rulings on lengthy imprisonment terms in Texas.

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  • The state provides for enhanced punishments for offenders with prior misdemeanor and felony convictions. 
State Constitution

Art. I, § 13: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishment inflicted. All courts shall be open, and every person for an injury done him, in his lands, goods, person or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law.

Sentencing Statutes

Repeat and Habitual Felony Offenders: Texas allows for sentence enhancements, including the possibility of life imprisonment, for offenders previously convicted of felonies and who are subsequently convicted of felonies. V.T.C.A. § 12.42.

Repeat and Habitual Misdemeanor Offenders: The state provides for sentencing enhancement when it is shown that an offender has a prior misdemeanor of the same class level or higher, or a previous felony, on his or her record. V.T.C.A. § 12.43. 

Case Law

General 

The state’s habitual criminal statute has repeatedly been upheld against claims it imposes cruel and unusual punishment. Harris v. State, 656 S.W.2d 481 (Tex.Crim.App. 1983).

A prior conviction cannot enhance punishment for an offense under the state’s habitual criminal act if it was an essential element of the instant crime. Gearing v. State, 685 S.W.2d 339, 341 (Tex.Ct.App. 1983)(sustaining challenge in case where prior felony conviction was used to prove both an element of the crime of possession of a firearm by a felon and as grounds for enhancement of penalty).

Proportionality 

Article I, §13 of the Texas constitution is coextensive with the Eighth Amendment to the federal constitution whereas proportionality is concerned. Alberto v. State, 100 S.W.3d 528, 530 (Tex.Ct.App. 2003). 

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The state constitution is not violated when the punishment assessed is within the limits prescribed by statute. Atchinson v. State, 124 S.W.3d 755, 759 (Tex.Ct.App. 2003).

Severe Sentences 

Court upheld mandatory life sentence for sexual assault of a child; court rejected argument that mandatory nature of sentence precluded introduction of mitigating evidence and was therefore cruel and unusual. Duran v. State, 363 S.W.3d 719, 721 (Tex.Ct.App. 2011).