Monday, May 04, 2009

Texas considers eliminating LWOP for juvies, two steps ahead of SCOTUS

Amazingly, for once Texas appears to be ahead of the curve regarding reforms to capital sentencing, with the state Legislature poised to potentially eliminate life without parole entirely for juveniles, even as the US Supreme Court has decided to consider whether to ban the practice for juveniles in non-murder cases.

SCOTUS today agreed to hear two cases out of Florida that will determine the constitutionality of sentencing juveniles in non-murder cases to life without parole (LWOP), Reuters reports:

The nation's high court agreed to hear two Florida cases, one involving a 13-year-old convicted of raping an elderly woman and the other involving a 17-year-old who took part in an armed home-invasion robbery while on probation for an earlier violent crime.

Their lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court and argued that life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, for juveniles whose crimes did not involve murder violated the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The Supreme Court in 2005 abolished the death penalty for juveniles.

The justices will consider in the two cases whether to extend that ruling to sentences of life without parole for juveniles convicted of crimes other than murder.

Doc Berman notes that in one of the cases before SCOTUS, a Florida youth sentenced to LWOP was actually sent to prison for a probation violation (!) after earlier committing armed robbery.

Meanwhile, Texas law only authorizes LWOP for juveniles in capital murder cases, but the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Wednesday will consider SB 839 by Hinojosa to eliminate LWOP for juveniles entirely and substitute a 40-year minimum sentence. Most observers believed clearing the Senate was this bill's biggest hurdle and the legislation has an excellent chance of making it through the process and becoming law, thanks in part to assistance from some unlikely supporters.

It's nice, for a change, to feel like our state is one step ahead of SCOTUS on these matters. Perhaps it's possible, just this once, for Texas to adjust our most extreme sentencing practices without first enduring a series of embarrassing scandals and bench slaps from the federal courts.

SCOTUSBlog has the relevant legal materials from the Florida cases.


Anonymous said...

As long as the most hardened of them are still available to be tried as adults, I see no problem with it. There are some, even juveniles, that should get this as a penalty.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Juvenile capital murderers will still be tried as adults, but as the bill is written they could not receive an LWOP sentence "if the individual's case was transferred to the court under Section 54.02, Family Code."

With a 40 year flat-time minimum, that means the very earliest they can get out (assuming no set-offs, in-prison misbehavior, etc.) will be in their 50s for a crime committed in their teens. IMO that's plenty harsh.

Anonymous said...

...and assuming they live through 40 years in the care and custody of our big brother, TDCJ.


RAS said...

15 year olds can be homicidal psycopaths. They will still be homicidal psycopaths when they are 55. This needs to factored into this law somehow.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

RAS, it IS factored into the law. the parole board doesn't have to let them out after 40 years if they're still a "homicidal psychopath."