The 4th Court rules an automatic life sentence without parole is cruel and usual for intellectually

The 4th Court granted en banc review in Avalos v. State. In Avalos, the defendant, an intellectually disabled person, was charged with two counts of capital murder. He pled no contest, and the death penalty was not imposed. Texas Penal Code section 12.31(a)(2) required the imposition of an automatic life sentence without parole for each conviction. Avalos and the State stipulated Avalos was intellectually disabled. The trial court denied Avalos’s request for an individualized sentencing determination. On appeal, Avalos’s sole issue was that the imposition of an automatic life sentence on an intellectually disabled person is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual.

The panel majority overruled this issue; the dissent agreed with Avalos that the unconstitutionality of an automatic life sentence without parole logically followed from the Supreme Court’s decisions. On en banc review, the majority held the automatic imposition of life without parole was unconstitutionally cruel and unusual as applied to intellectually disabled adult offenders. The dissent would have overruled this issue for the reasons stated in the original panel opinion.

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