What We Do

Since it was founded, Texas Defender Service has been a nationwide leader in the fight to end the death penalty. Through a quarter century of litigation and advocacy, Texas Defender Service has transformed the legal landscape for people facing sentences of death in Texas. We have given voice to the humanity of our clients, their families, and their communities, and led transformative policy initiatives for people facing death sentences, including creating a statewide public defender office, the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs, to represent capital defendants in their state habeas proceedings, and achieving passage of a law, among the first of its kind, to permit new trials for defendants whose convictions were premised on junk science. Texas Defender Service has argued - and won - five cases before the United States Supreme Court, and achieved countless victories for clients who faced the death penalty because of their mental illness, intellectual disability, or race. TDS has driven down new executions and death sentences - from their startling height of 40 in 2000 - to just a trickle today. Our team of seven mitigation specialists investigates our clients’ life histories for capital trial and post-conviction teams across the state, inspiring District Attorneys and juries with stories of the humanity of our clients. In 2022, we expanded our mission to include serving people facing other excessive sentences in the Lone Star State.

Direct Representation
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We represent people imprisoned because of extreme punishments in the Lone Star State, from the death penalty to life sentences for third-degree felonies. Our driving passion is advocating for the tens of thousands of people in Texas prisons who are serving excessive punishments, and fighting for their right to a second chance.

Policy Reform
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We advocate for reforms that would end excessive punishment in the Lone Star State and shrink mass incarceration. We fight for more humane sentencing practices in District Attorneys’ offices, Second Look legislation that would give people in prison a second chance, and parole reform.

Public Education
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We shift the narrative about mass incarceration in Texas, educating the public about how excessive sentences are cruel, extreme, and unnecessary—making visible the damage so often hidden from the public eye.

Our Recent Impact

  • In May 2022, we achieved a major legal victory for our intellectually disabled client Juan Segundo when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals modified his sentence from death to life imprisonment. 
  • In 2022, we achieved the release of two clients who were incarcerated solely because they were mentally ill, facilitating their return to community facilities where they could receive the mental health care they desperately needed.
  • In 2021, we obtained a stay of execution for our client on the grounds that the state relied on debunked bite mark evidence at his trial and that he is intellectually disabled and exempt from execution.
  • Since 2017, we have inspired District Attorneys to drop capital charges against 25 of our clients who faced the death penalty, including one so far in 2022.
  • In the last four years, our team of mitigation specialists has conducted investigations that persuaded District Attorneys to agree to a sentence less than death for four separate clients with intellectual disability. 
  • We investigated and prepared a mitigation case for Arturo Garza, which ultimately convinced a jury to sentence him to life without parole instead of to death. This result inspired Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez to settle four capital murder cases, stating that the community has spoken on capital punishment - and, in 2022, declare he is against the death penalty.