Virginia court decision that its geriatric release program satisfies the parole opportunity requirement for juvenile offenders who did not commit a homicide is not an unreasonable application of Graham v. Florida (2010) 560 U.S. 48. When LeBlanc was 16, he raped a 62-year-old woman. In 2003, a Virginia state court sentenced him to life in prison for his crimes. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits juvenile offenders convicted of nonhomicide offenses from being sentenced to LWOP. After this decision, LeBlanc filed a motion in state court to vacate his sentence in light of Graham. The court denied the motion, relying on a Virginia Supreme Court decision that held Virginia’s geriatric release program satisfies Graham’s requirement of parole for juvenile offenders (a person who had been incarcerated as a juvenile would be able to petition for release at the age of 60). After exhausting the issue in state court, LeBlanc filed a federal habeas petition, which was granted. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the state court’s ruling was an unreasonable application of Graham. The state petitioned for certiorari. Held: Reversed in per curiam opinion. Under AEDPA, a state prisoner is eligible for federal habeas relief if the underlying state court merits ruling was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law” as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court. (28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).) Here, the Fourth Circuit erred by failing to give the state court’s decision adequate deference under AEDPA. Graham did not decide that a geriatric release program like Virginia’s violates the Eighth Amendment. It was not objectively unreasonable for the state court to conclude that the geriatric release program satisfies Graham’s requirement that juveniles convicted of nonhomicide offenses have a meaningful opportunity to receive parole. While there are arguments for and against finding that a geriatric release program satisfies the Eighth Amendment, these arguments cannot be resolved on federal habeas review and the Court did not express a view on the merits of the claim.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/16-1177_m648.pdf