EAST TEXAS (KTRE) - The state of Texas' highest court has been known to be one of the toughest and most conservative when prosecuting criminals, but new numbers show the state offered double the number of execution stays in 2015 than in any other year for the past decade.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has warranted a reputation.
"Texas has had a long history of being tough on crime and especially with the death penalty," said John Boundy, an East Texas criminal defense attorney.
The Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has produced numbers that show a shift in the attitude toward the death penalty.
"The court's decisions and the trend in the court right now is reflecting what they're seeing in society over the concerns regarding the death penalty," Boundy said.
Texas leads the nation in exonerations of wrongfully convicted defendants with 39 in 2014.
"We have the greatest system for criminal justice around, but even with all those checks and balances, it's still a human system," Boundy said.
It's a changing human system. Execution stays allow inmates more time to change their fates.
"Anytime you have the system making sure that they got it right, it's always a positive thing," Boundy said.
According to TCADP, eight inmates on death row were granted execution stays. That doubles the number granted every year for almost a decade.
Katrina Carswell, the first assistant district attorney of Angelina County said, "I don't think it reflects a softer view on crime at all. I think that the number of cases that garner attention will fluctuate as they wind their way towards that ultimate execution date."
Carswell also mentioned the new changes in the court.
"We have a fairly new court addressing the appeals process so that may also be a factor," Carswell said.
"Prosecutors have to sit down and think hard. Is this something that deserves the death penalty?" Boundy said.
Carswell said more time to review death penalties is a positive thing, but there are others involved in cases who should not be forgotten.
"Recognizing that these defendants are given a robust right to appeal, with strong legal counsel throughout the process, it only makes sense that each individual case is being reviewed properly and thoroughly," Carswell said. "I'm not completely sure it should take as long as it does in some cases, but this is the trend we see and we have to remember that the victims' families, too, must wait it out."
The dwindling number of death sentences and growing number of executions stays say one thing about the state of Texas' legal system.
"There is still room in our system for the death penalty, but we want to make sure it's used sparingly so that an innocent man doesn't pay that ultimate price," Boundy said.
The number of executions nationwide also hit a new low this past year. There were 28 total. That's the lowest the number has been in 24 years.