Today, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that executing individuals who are juveniles or who committed a murder while they were under the age of 18 is unconstitutional as it falls under the definition of cruel and unusual punishment. Senator Rodney Ellis was joined by Senators Eliot Shapleigh and Eddie Lucio in applauding the Supreme Court in what they feel is a landmark decision. "I support the death penalty, but I think we should implement it a little more fairly, and a little less indiscriminately, "said Ellis, "I've always felt that if someone isn't considered mature enough to vote, they shouldn't be considered mature enough to be put to death."
Texas, Oklahoma, and Virginia are the only states to execute a juvenile offender since 1990, and the United States is one of the few countries that allowed juvenile executions, along with China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. Texas has carried out 13 of the 22 juvenile executions in the U.S. since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1972, and currently 29 juveniles or individuals convicted as juveniles sit on death row. According to Andrea Keilen, Deputy Director of the Texas Defender Service, these individuals will have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. Keilen joined with the Senators in praising the Supreme Court decision. "We are recognizing as a nation that kids are different, "said Keilen, "That if we're not going to let kids under 18 vote, be on juries, or marry, that we should take the same consideration in the criminal justice system. Children have a different level of maturity and impulse control than do adults."
Assuming Texas follows the Supreme Court ruling, the only currently available maximum sentence for a juvenile murderer is life with the possibility of parole after 40 years. Senator Lucio, a long-time proponent of life-without-parole sentencing, says this ruling demonstrates the need for alternative sentences for juries or judges to issue. While it is extremely rare for a murderer serving a life sentence to be paroled, Lucio says Texas needs a life-without-parole option in order to ensure dangerous criminals are not allowed back on the streets.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, March 2, at 10:00 A.M.