How A 1976 Supreme Court Case Made Texas The Death Penalty Capital

Jurek v. Texas is lesser-known case that established how juries should decide whether a defendant deserves execution as punishment.

By Wells Dunbar & Alexandra HartDecember 6, 2019 3:30 pm

Texas has carried out more than 550 executions since the U.S. Supreme Court deemed the death penalty constitutional in 1976 with Gregg v. Georgia. 

More than four decades later, Texas leads the nation in executions, which disproportionately affect people of color. But overall, the practice is less common these days in Texas, and nationwide.

Liliana Segura is an investigative journalist covering the criminal justice system for The Intercept. She recently wrote a four-part series about the death penalty, and says it is actually the lesser-known Jurek v. Texas case, also from 1976, that most influenced how juries decide capital punishment cases.

“It contained three questions that were posed to jurors. The first one was whether the crime had been committed ‘deliberately and with the expectation that the victim would die.’ The second question was whether there was a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society. And the third one was whether the killing was ‘unreasonable in response to any provocation by the victim,’” Segura says. “If [the jury] unanimously answered ‘yes’ to all three questions, then there would be an automatic death sentence.”

What you’ll hear in this segment:

– How Jurek v. Texas established guidelines for determining when the death penalty is an appropriate punishment

– How the death penalty has been used disproportionately against racial minorities

– Why there’s fewer death row inmates in Texas today 


Written by Antonio Cueto.