March 11, 2020 U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court Dismisses Juvenile Life Without Parole Case Following New Virginia Legislation

On February 24, 2020, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation allowing prisoners serving life sentences for crimes committed as juveniles to be eligible for parole after twenty years of incarceration. The same day, the Virginia Attorney General and attorneys representing Lee Boyd Malvo submitted a stipulated request asking the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss Mr. Malvo’s case, which the Court granted soon after. The Court had heard oral arguments on October 16, 2019, in Mathena v. Malvo, a case examining the reach of the Court’s 2012 prohibition on mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences in Miller v. Alabama, made retroactive by Montgomery v. Lousiana in 2016. Miller also cautioned that juvenile life without parole sentences should be rare and given only after certain considerations about the defendant’s age, background, and the crime. About two weeks after dismissing Mr. Malvo’s case, the Court granted certiorari review in a Mississippi case posing a similar question.

Mr. Malvo, who is now 35, was the juvenile half of the “D.C. Sniper” duo. He was sentenced to life without parole in 2004 after a capital trial in which the jury could choose between that sentence and death. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit remanded Mr. Malvo’s case for resentencing in 2018, reasoning that his 2004 sentencing had not accounted for the case-by-case considerations required under Miller and Montgomery. The State opposed the remand, arguing that Montgomery did not expand Miller to include reconsideration of non-mandatory sentences, and that Mr. Malvo’s life sentence had been discretionary. In securing the State’s agreement to dismiss the case, Mr. Malvo agreed not to seek any re-sentencing, leaving his Virginia life sentences intact—although under the new law his sentence includes the possibility of parole. The dismissal will also let the Fourth Circuit’s ruling stand.

Though Mr. Malvo will now be parole-eligible in Virginia as early as 2022, he also has life without parole sentences in Maryland stemming from the D.C. Sniper shootings.