Texas’s law of parties bases a defendant’s responsibility for a crime on his relationship to the perpetrator, rather than his own conduct or intent, and can yield sentences that are disproportionate to the defendant’s culpability for a crime.

Key points:

  • A subprovision of the law of parties allows courts to convict individuals of crimes they neither committed nor intended for anyone else to commit.
  • This rule is problematic in murder and capital murder cases, which require evidence that the actual assailant had a high level of intent, but a conspirator may be convicted with a showing that he should have been aware that his co-conspirator would commit the crime.
  • The law of parties undermines the integrity of Texas’s capital punishment system, which must reserve executions for the “worst of the worst” offenders, by providing a mechanism under which individuals who did not kill anyone or intend that anyone killed may be sentenced to death.
  • This rule is also particularly harsh against juveniles and young adults who are prone to impulsive, reckless behavior in group settings but are unlikely to re-offend.

Updated May 2021