Texas is poised to execute Jeffery Lee Wood next week, even though he was sitting in the car 20 years ago when his friend went into a convenience store and fatally shot the clerk. Under existing precedent, sentencing an accomplice to the death penalty is sometimes constitutional. But it shouldn't be -- at least when the accomplice doesn't intend for the crime to occur, as was almost certainly the case for Wood.
The U.S. Supreme Court made its two crucial decisions on the execution of accomplices some 30 years ago -- and they are now ripe for being revisited. The first, Enmund v. Florida, came in 1982. It was a close, 5-4 decision, with centrist Justice Byron White writing for a coalition of liberal justices.
The court struck down the death penalty for Earl Enmund, a getaway driver who had been in the car when his colleagues committed two murders in the course of a robbery. Under Florida law, he had been an accomplice, which subjected him to the same penalty as the murderers themselves.