Texas lawmakers approved a new sentencing option for juveniles who commit capital crimes on Friday, allowing judges and juries to choose life in prison with the possibility of parole in 40 years. Gov. Rick Perry added the measure to the special legislative session last month along with redistricting, abortion regulations and transportation funding. Lawmakers must pass the bills before Tuesday, when the special legislative session ends.
Under Texas law, a 17-year old is considered an adult in a capital murder case and, until recently, faced a mandatory sentence of life without a parole. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that such a mandatory sentence was unconstitutional for minors, leading Texas lawmakers to add the option of life with parole possible after 40 years, the same sentence used for offenders between 14 and 16.
Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said the law was necessary to close a "doughnut hole" that left state law without a way to sentence 17-year-olds guilty of murder while committing another felony. But Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, argued that 40 years is a life sentence under federal law and argued for a shorter minimum.