Juveniles No Longer Eligible for Life Without Parole?

How the Graham Decision Affects Texas Juveniles

Even though Texas is viewed around the country as a state that has fast-tracked capital punishment, Texas appears to be a bit kinder when it comes to juveniles. Having already outlawed the death penalty for juveniles, as of September 1, 2009, Texas also has outlawed life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of capital murder.

In explaining why he introduced the bill, Texas State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa stated that “[l]ife without parole, to me that’s very cruel in the sense that they’re not given a second chance.”

However, that change brings little comfort to Litrey Turner and the approximately 20 other juveniles already serving life sentences without parole, as the law does not apply retroactively. Litrey was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to a life sentence without parole for shooting a store owner during a robbery.

Supreme Court Bans Life Without Parole – Partially

In a recent decision by the United States Supreme Court, Graham v. Florida, the court ruled that it was unconstitutional for a juvenile to receive a sentence of life without parole for a non-homicide offense.

Writing for the majority in the Graham case, Justice Kennedy explained that declaring sentences without parole for juveniles in non-homicide cases unconstitutional “gives all juvenile non-homicide offenders a chance to demonstrate maturity and reform. The juvenile should not be deprived of the opportunity to achieve maturity of judgment and self-recognition of human worth and potential.”

Effect in Texas

Because the Graham decision will not apply to non-homicide cases, it may do little for the approximately 20 juveniles still serving sentences of life without parole in Texas.

Litrey Turner does have hope, however. Litrey’s life sentence was recently overturned and he will be given a new trial in the coming days, where the jury will be able to consider the charge of robbery. If at the new trial Litrey is convicted of robbery and not capital murder, he will avoid a life sentence without parole.