I have no earthly idea why I am spending so much time on this issue, but I seem to be devoting a fair chunk of time to any and all movement going on in the Special Session.
Just three days ago, shortly after the Senate had passed a bill to substitute the mandatory life-without-parole punishment for 17 year-old capital murderers with 40 years (life with parole), I noted that the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee had unanimously passed the legislation.
As I had predicted, the House offered up and passed some amendments to the Senate’s bill. Accordingly, the bill still must return to a Conference Committee. Although I noted that Rep. Bryan Hughes (yes, the same Hughes who led the Christian Conservative for Speaker conundrum) had proposed an alternative bill that would have allowed juries to see and hear mitigating evidence and arguments, and given them the opportunity to place a sentence as light as 25 years. After pressure, the alternate bill was pulled.
The only amendment that got through on the bill, SB 23, actually put the option of life-without-parole back on the table. Simply put, it gave the jury two options: life-without parole or life-with-parole (40 years). Forty years, to be fair, often times is a death sentence, but if one is 17, it usually is not.
Editor’s note: Being incarcerated from ages 17-57 constitutes the effective lifetime imprisonment of the worthwhile years of your life. While most individuals begin winding down their occupations and the like at that time, these individuals would be just getting out of prison with little to no skills or education.
The amendment was offered up by Matt Schaefer (R-Smith County), although I cannot find a roll call on it. A point of humor, Joe Moody, a Democrat from El Paso, had to offer up an amendment to Rep. Schaefer’s bill that essentially proofread it and corrected the numerous typos therein. For example, Rep. Schaefer used the phrase “capitol felony.” Yikes, and this guy leads our State?
Anyways, the bill ended up passing 110-28. All the dissenters were Democrats, and they included all the usual suspects. It appeared to me that the strongest opponent was Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Harris County). Dutton railed on and on about how the bill is unconstitutional since it still involves both mandatory sentences and life-with-parole. For the record, the Supreme Court case that caused this issue to be risen in the first place, Miller v. Alabama, did not prohibit either of these things. It only prohibited a mandatory sentence of life-without-parole.
While this bill isn’t the best, it still is better than what we have now. Additionally, under current law and precedent (that’s important), this bill is not unconstitutional. The Supreme Court is currently moving towards a much more comprehensive view of the protections of the Eighth Amendment (especially pertaining to minors), so this may not be true in a few years.