Texas Eyes Measure Allowing Mandatory Life Sentences With Possibility of Parole for 17-Year-Olds

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Texas may soon come into compliance with Miller v. Alabama, last year’s Supreme Court ruling barring states from sentencing juveniles under 18 to mandatory life without parole. The problem? In the eyes of Texas law 17-year-olds are adults, leaving the state with no legal sentences if they are convicted of capital murder.

With the state legislature called in for a special session, Gov. Rick Perry added a proposal Tuesday to establish a mandatory life sentence for 17-year-olds with the possibility of parole after 40 years.

“We’ve been watching and we’ve been working with legislators to get something passed,” a spokesperson for Parker County District Attorney Don Schnebly told The Dallas Observer. “And we’re happy Gov. Perry added it to the agenda so we have a chance to get this figured out.”

However, Scott Henson, a criminal justice activist in Austin, told The Dallas Morning News that an easier solution to the state’s compliance quandary may be achieved by simply raising the legal age of adulthood to 18, matching federal law.

“Easily the most elegant fix would be to raise our age at which we treat people as adults in the criminal justice system from 17 to 18,” he said. “This is not the only instance where Supreme Court decisions leave us in this weird netherworld, there’s a bevy of stuff that that little difference creates.”

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