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November 19, 2010

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejects attack on juve LWOP for murderer

As detailed in this report in the Austin American-Statesman, earlier this week the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that "sentencing juvenile murderers to life in prison without any chance of parole is not unreasonably harsh."  Here are more details (along with links inserted to the opinions ):

Chris Joshua Meadoux, convicted of killing two San Antonio friends when he was 16, argued that his no-parole sentence violated the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment because juveniles lack maturity, judgment and an adult's sense of responsibility.

But in a 7-2 ruling, the state's highest criminal court said that juveniles may be less morally culpable than adults, but some actions justify imposing the second-harshest penalty available in Texas.

"Given the enormity of the crimes committed by juvenile capital offenders, the Legislature could reasonably conclude that such offenders are incorrigible and that the only prudent course of action is to separate them from society forever," said the opinion [available here], written by Judge Charles Holcomb.  

Although Texas law no longer allows the practice, life without parole was available for juvenile capital murder defendants who were tried as adults from 2005 to 2009.  Twenty teens were sentenced to remain jailed until they die, including Meadoux, now 20.  

A dissenting opinion [available here] by Judge Lawrence Meyers said the court should have ordered new punishment hearings for Meadoux and the other juvenile offenders. Meyers noted that after the U.S. Supreme Court banned executing juvenile killers in 2005, sentences for the affected inmates were commuted to life terms with the possibility of parole after 40 years served. "It's ridiculous to say that a juvenile who was not even eligible for the death penalty" should receive a harsher no-parole sentence, he wrote in the dissent joined by Judge Cheryl Johnson.

In 2005, the Texas Legislature voted to let jurors choose life without parole or execution for capital murder.  Four years later, the law was amended to ban no-parole sentences for those who committed murder while younger than 18.   Several legislators said the move was intended to correct an oversight in the 2005 law, but the no-parole ban was not made retroactive....

The case is Meadoux v. Texas, PD-0123-10.

November 19, 2010 at 02:06 PM | Permalink

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Comments

The lack of reasoning power that exists on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is, as ever, frightening. Hopefully, either legislative intervention or an appeal to the Supreme Court will overrule this judgment in time. When the courts give up on ideas of rehabilitation of juveniles you know the system is sick. LWOP is a violation of International Law and an abuse of Human Rights as set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child - which the US still refuses to sign up to I believe.
A ringing condemnation of the US position was set out in a submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council earlier this year by the International Human Rights Law Society with the endorsement of the Program in International Human Rights Law of Indiana University School of Law—Indianapolis, Indiana U.S.A.
(see pdf of the submission by clicking on my name.

Posted by: peter | Nov 19, 2010 5:12:47 PM

Yea i keep waiting for someone who's been screwed by the U.S. Govt's CRIMINAL ...Criminal Justice System to ask the world court to bring criminal charges against the U.S for it's continual violation of the BINDING treatres we have signed as well as OUR OWN law!

Posted by: rodsmith | Nov 19, 2010 5:22:54 PM

It's weird that there is just this 4-year time period where these sentences were handed out. I know that changes in the criminal law generally won't support an equal-protection claim, but it does feel like there is not much reason these similarly-situated cases are treated differently than those before and after...

Posted by: Anon | Nov 19, 2010 6:18:25 PM

Honestly the lack of reasoning is in the dissent. The complaint by Meyer is essentially that he disagrees with the policy choices of the Texas legislature. While those choices may be indeed, ridiculous, the complete lack of legal reasoning makes me wonder who these judges think they are.

To rodsmith. The idea that juveniles who commit the worst murders that would permit the death penalty for adults, are being treated "criminally" by our criminal justice system seems to ignore legitimate nuances. For example is it criminal to give LWOP to a 17y11m old who commits a capital murder, but not criminal for the 18y1m old? One could argue it is criminal, or at least an Equal Protection violation, to distinguish between the two. I must admit I do not know if EP applies to distinctions mandated by the US Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court created this problem some time ago but Graham just perpetuates it. The idea that a juvenile convicted of felony murder can get LWOP (current law) but no matter how depraved, no matter how many crimes committed, no matter the intent to kill, no matter how many maimed so long as that juvenile did not succeed in killing, no LWOP. Talk about lack of reasoning.

Posted by: David | Nov 19, 2010 10:40:57 PM

"Meyers noted that after the U.S. Supreme Court banned executing juvenile killers in 2005, sentences for the affected inmates were commuted to life terms with the possibility of parole after 40 years served. 'It's ridiculous to say that a juvenile who was not even eligible for the death penalty' should receive a harsher no-parole sentence, he wrote in the dissent joined by Judge Cheryl Johnson."

No "judge", what's "ridiculous" is the idea that a group of murderers' sentences somehow creates an Eighth Amendment ceiling for other murderers.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 19, 2010 10:52:28 PM

hmm

"To rodsmith. The idea that juveniles who commit the worst murders that would permit the death penalty for adults, are being treated "criminally" by our criminal justice system seems to ignore legitimate nuances. For example is it criminal to give LWOP to a 17y11m old who commits a capital murder, but not criminal for the 18y1m old? One could argue it is criminal, or at least an Equal Protection violation, to distinguish between the two. I must admit I do not know if EP applies to distinctions mandated by the US Supreme Court."

Belive it or not i agree. I think if you comitt an ADULT crime you should get an adult punishment. The offenders age should only come in at sentencing jsut like any other midigation factor and in the decision as to WHERE they are confined.

But right now THAT'S NOT the law. That is what i'm talking about. The U.S Supreme Court has las LWOP is a NO-NO for minors....now you have state courts who don't seem to realize the supremes REALLY REALLY meant it!.

Or our complete body of sex offender laws passed since 2002 that DIRECTLY violate the only real decison on the registry.

Posted by: rodsmith | Nov 20, 2010 3:59:58 PM

"But right now THAT'S NOT the law. That is what i'm talking about. The U.S Supreme Court has las LWOP is a NO-NO for minors....now you have state courts who don't seem to realize the supremes REALLY REALLY meant it!."

I must have missed that SCOTUS decision that barred LWOP for juvenile murderers. Can you provide a cite?

Posted by: federalist | Nov 20, 2010 6:32:26 PM

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