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Case Name LeBlanc v. Mathena CJ-VA-0003
Docket / Court 2:12-cv-00340-AWA-LRL ( E.D. Va. )
State/Territory Virginia
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Attorney Organization Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)
Case Summary
On June 19, 2012, a prisoner incarcerated at the Red Onion State Prison in Pound, Virginia, petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel and Equal Justice Initiative, sought relief from his ... read more >
On June 19, 2012, a prisoner incarcerated at the Red Onion State Prison in Pound, Virginia, petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel and Equal Justice Initiative, sought relief from his sentence under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The plaintiff claimed that denial of relief by the Virginia courts ran contrary to federal law clearly established by Supreme Court precedent. Specifically, the plaintiff, who was serving two life sentences without parole for conduct committed as a minor, claimed that the state’s refusal to give non-homicide juvenile offenders a meaningful opportunity to obtain release ran counter to Graham v. Florida, in which the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment forbids sentencing juvenile offenders who did not commit homicide to life without parole.

On July 15, 2002, nearly ten years prior to filing his habeas corpus petition, the plaintiff had been found guilty of rape and abduction for conduct that occurred on July 6, 1999, when the plaintiff was 16 years old. On March 4, 2003, he was sentenced to serve two terms of life imprisonment. Under the Virginia Code, the plaintiff was ineligible for parole. On May 17, 2010, more than seven years after the plaintiff received his sentences, the Supreme Court decided Graham v. Florida. In light of the new Supreme Court precedent, the plaintiff filed a Motion to Vacate Invalid Sentence in the Virginia Beach Circuit Court on May 11, 2011. The circuit court denied the plaintiff’s motion, concluding that Virginia’s geriatric statute, which allows prisoners to apply for condition release at the age of sixty, provides an appropriate mechanism for compliance with Graham. The Supreme Court of Virginia refused the plaintiff’s petition for appeal on April 13, 2012, and denied his petition for rehearing on June 15, 2012. The plaintiff subsequently petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus.

On November 15, 2012, Red Onion State Prison and the Commonwealth of Virginia moved to dismiss.

On July 24, 2013, Magistrate Judge Lawrence R. Leonard issued a report and recommendation, recommending that respondents’ motion to dismiss be granted. 2013 WL 10799406. In his opinion, Judge Leonard discussed a Virginia Supreme Court case, Angel v. Commonwealth. The Angel decision explained that the state does have methods in place for allowing juvenile offenders an opportunity for release: the geriatric release statute provides prisoners with the opportunity to apply for conditional release at age sixty. Further, reviewing of a claim raised in a § 2254 petition is impermissible unless the state court decision is contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law; the report concluded that this showing was not made in this case.

On July 1, 2015, after supplemental briefing, the District Court (Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen) denied the respondent’s motion to dismiss and granted the prisoner's petition. 2015 WL 4042175. The District Court held that the state court determination was contrary to clearly established federal law and involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. First, Graham imposes a flat ban on life sentences without parole for juvenile non-homicide offenders. Second, the theory that the state complies with Graham by allowing prisoners to apply for geriatric release misapplies Graham’s governing principle that children warrant special consideration in sentencing.

Respondents appealed, but on November 7, 2016, the Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the petitioner is entitled to relief from his unconstitutional sentence. 841 F.3d 256. Judge Wynn explained that the state court adjudication was an unreasonable application of Graham. It was unreasonable for the Virginia state courts to conclude that geriatric release amounted to a meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on maturity and rehabilitation, as is demanded by Graham. Judge Niemeyer, in dissent, argued that the Virginia court’s decision in Angel v. Commonwealth was reasonable and should be given deference.

The state's petition for rehearing en banc was denied. On January 24, 2017, Red Onion State Prison and the Commonwealth of Virginia moved to stay the mandate pending the filing of a petition for a writ of certiorari. On February 1, 2017, the Fourth Circuit granted the motion to stay the mandate. On June 12, the Supreme Court granted cert and, in a per curiam opinion, reversed. On August 25, Fourth Circuit then reversed the district court's judgment. Neither court provided reasoning for its decision.

The case is now closed.

Julie Singer - 02/12/2017
Virginia Weeks - 03/23/2018


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Defendant-type
Corrections
General
Habeas Corpus
Over/Unlawful Detention
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action Habeas Corpus, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241-2253; 2254; 2255
Defendant(s) Commonwealth of Virginia
Plaintiff Description Prisoner incarcerated at Red Onion State Prison for crimes committed as a minor
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Case Closing Year 2017
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing CJ-MD-0004 : Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative v. Hogan (D. Md.)
Docket(s)
2:12−cv−00340−AWA−LRL (E.D. Va.)
CJ-VA-0003-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/02/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus by Prisoner in State Custody [ECF# 1]
CJ-VA-0003-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/19/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Report and Recommendation [ECF# 24]
CJ-VA-0003-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/24/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Petitioner's Supplemental Brief [ECF# 27]
CJ-VA-0003-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/11/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [granting relief] [ECF# 35] (2015 WL 4042175) (E.D. Va.)
CJ-VA-0003-0001.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 07/01/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 50] (841 F.3d 256)
CJ-VA-0003-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 11/10/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Allen, Arenda Lauretta Wright (E.D. Va.)
CJ-VA-0003-0001 | CJ-VA-0003-9000
Leonard, Lawrence Richard Court not on record [Magistrate]
CJ-VA-0003-0003 | CJ-VA-0003-9000
Niemeyer, Paul Victor (D. Md., Fourth Circuit)
CJ-VA-0003-0005
Wynn, James Andrew Jr. (Fourth Circuit)
CJ-VA-0003-0005
Plaintiff's Lawyers Chu, Stephen (Alabama)
CJ-VA-0003-0002 | CJ-VA-0003-0004 | CJ-VA-0003-9000
Stanton, Jennifer Tope (Virginia)
CJ-VA-0003-0002 | CJ-VA-0003-0004 | CJ-VA-0003-9000
Susskind, Randall Scott (Alabama)
CJ-VA-0003-0002 | CJ-VA-0003-0004 | CJ-VA-0003-9000
Swiergula, Jennae Rose (Alabama)
CJ-VA-0003-0002 | CJ-VA-0003-0004 | CJ-VA-0003-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Adelfio, Katherine Quinlan (Virginia)
CJ-VA-0003-9000
Cox, Trevor Stephen (Virginia)
CJ-VA-0003-9000
Raphael, Stuart Alan (Virginia)
CJ-VA-0003-9000
Todd, Lara Kate Jacobs (Virginia)
CJ-VA-0003-9000

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