Texas Legal History: Lethal Injection

December 11, 2020

Feature


This week marks 38 years since the first use of lethal injection in the United States. On December 7th, 1982, the State of Texas executed Charlie Brooks by lethal injection, becoming the first U.S. state to execute an offender with this method. Read on for a brief overview of the history of lethal injection in Texas.

Texas Lethal Injection Laws

Texas adopted lethal injection as a method of execution in 1977. The new method was proposed by Democratic House Representative Ben Z. Grant in House Bill 945, which amended Article 43.14 Execution of Convict: Confidential Information in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. This bill was signed into law by Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe on May 11th, 1977, and became effective 90 days later on August 11th, 1977. You can view the bill file for HB 945 on the Legislative Reference Library's website.

Charlie Brooks was the first person to be executed by lethal injection in the United States. Brooks was convicted of capital murder in Tarrant County in 1979. You can find Brooks' appellate opinions available in Fastcase, a legal research database. For assistance in locating these opinions, please Ask a Librarian.

  • Brooks v. State, 599 S.W.2d 312 (Tex. Cr. App. 1979) (Direct Appeal).
  • Brooks v. Estelle, 697 F.2d 586 (5th Cir. 1982) (Habeas).
  • Brooks v. Estelle, 103 S.Ct. 1490 (1982) (Stay)
Lethal injection remains the sole method used for executions in Texas today and is still found in Article 43.14 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. Texas uses a single dose of Pentobarbitol, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The Texas statute does not specify the specific drugs used for lethal injection, but these are outlined in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Execution Procedures [PDF]. 

Library Resources

For further research, the State Law Library has several e-books that address the death penalty and capital crimes available in the Criminal Law & Procedure section of our Digital Collection. In particular, we recommend the Death Penalty in a Nutshell, which is available through West Academic. Please note that you will need a current library account to access any of the library's materials remotely, which you can register for online

Online Resources

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice includes a page on their website with history and facts about the Texas Death Row

The Death Penalty Information Center is a non-profit that provides information and research on the death penalty in the United States, including legislative activity, annual reports, historical information, fact sheets, and sentencing data. You can find notable cases and other information about the Texas death penalty on their website. Additionally, you can find the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Execution Procedure document [PDF] as part of a larger list of state-by-state lethal injection protocols.

Human Rights Watch is an NGO that conducts research and advocacy for human rights. In 2006 HRW published a detailed report about lethal injection practices and protocols in the United States titled So Long As They Die: Lethal Injections in the United States [PDF]. This report includes an explanation of Texas's role in the development of lethal injection protocols in the United States beginning on page 15.


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