In a 7-2 decision on Nov. 17, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed a court of appeals’ holding that the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not bar the sentence of life without parole handed Chris Meadoux, who was 16 when he murdered two people in 2007. Writing for the majority in Meadoux v. State, CCA Judge Charles Holcomb wrote that Meadoux has not established that there is currently a national consensus against imposing life without parole against a juvenile offender. “Meadoux concedes that the majority of states have available in their penal statutes, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders, and he has offered no evidence indicating that sentences in those states are actually moving away from assessing such punishment to such offenders,” Holcomb wrote. In 2005, the Texas Legislature passed legislation to provide for a life sentence without parole as the only alternative to the death penalty in capital cases. But in 2009, the Legislature passed S.B. 839 to eliminate the sentence of life without parole for juveniles certified to be tried as adults for capital offenses. The bill took effect on Sept. 1, 2009. Meadoux is one of 20 juvenile offenders serving life-without-parole sentences, according to information provided by Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clarke. CCA Judge Lawrence Meyers wrote in a dissenting opinion in Meadoux, “Considering that juveniles who were previously on death row, who were found by a jury to be a future danger, and who were sentenced to death had their sentenced commuted and now have a chance of parole, it’s ridiculous to say that a juvenile who was not even eligible for the death penalty should have received a life sentence without parole.” CCA Judge Cheryl Johnson joined in the dissent. Angela Moore, Bexar County chief appellate public defender, whose office represents Meadoux, says, “We’re very disappointed in their [the CCA majority’s] opinion, but we basically believed that’s how they would hold.” Moore says her office plans to file a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. She says the argument in Meadoux is an extension of the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Roper v. Simmons, which ended the death penalty for juvenile offenders. Individuals in this age category don’t have the maturity or acumen to work against their impulses, Moore says. “Was he [Meadoux] in the position to understand the consequences of his behavior?” she asks. Cliff Herberg, first assistant in the Bexar County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted Meadoux, could not be reached for comment.
-- Mary Alice Robbins