The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Virginia's geriatric release program meets the terms of its 2010 decision saying that juvenile nonhomicide offenders cannot get life without parole.
The case was about Dennis LeBlanc, who raped a 62-year-old woman on July 6, 1999, when LeBlanc was 16 years old. A Virginia state trial court sentenced him to life in prison in 2003. But in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that the Eighth Amendment prevents juvenile nonhomicide offenders from being sentenced to life without parole.
In the 1990s, before LeBlanc was sentenced, Virginia replaced its "traditional framework" for parole with a "geriatric release" program for elderly inmates who have served a certain amount of time. LeBlanc asked a state trial court to vacate his sentence in light of the Graham ruling but was denied because it said that the geriatric release program provided an avenue for the conditional release of long-serving inmates, satisfying the Graham ruling. The Virginia Supreme Court then denied LeBlanc's requests for rehearing and appeal.
He then turned to the federal courts, filing a federal habeas petition in 2012, and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the federal district court decision that the Virginia state courts' rulings were unreasonable.
On Monday, the Supreme Court disagreed and noted that "In order for a state court's decision to be an unreasonable application of this court's case law, the ruling must be 'objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong; even clear error will not suffice.'"
"The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit erred by failing to accord the state court's decision the deference owed under AEDPA," the Supreme Court said in the unsigned opinion. "Graham did not decide that a geriatric release program like Virginia's failed to satisfy the Eighth Amendment because that question was not presented. And it was not objectively unreasonable for the state court to conclude that, because the geriatric release program employed normal parole factors, it satisfied Graham's requirement that juveniles convicted of a nonhomicide crime have a meaningful opportunity to receive parole."