As Northam signs bill extending parole eligibility for juveniles, convicted D.C. sniper drops resentencing request

A police officer walks into the John Marshall Courthouse in downtown Richmond. (Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Virginia will extend parole eligibility to people convicted of felonies they committed when they were under the age of 18, prompting convicted sniper Lee Boyd Malvo to drop a resentencing request that had been pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The bill is the second to be signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam since Democrats won control of the General Assembly in November. (The first was a routine tax conformity bill.)

Under the new law, anyone who has served at least 20 years for a crime they committed as a juvenile is eligible to petition the state’s parole board for release. Advocates say it will affect 700 people who were sentenced as children in adult court and are currently incarcerated. It goes into effect July 1.

“It’s a huge victory,” Heather Renwick, legal director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, told The Appeal, noting it would also “provide broader relief and parole eligibility for all kids sentenced in the adult system.”

The Appeal, which covers criminal justice issues nationwide, observes that it remains uncertain how much relief the new law will provide in practice: “It will only make people eligible to go in front of a parole board, with no guarantee that anyone gets paroled. And the recent history of Virginia’s board is to quasi-systematically deny the applications it receives. This signals the importance of strengthening the parole process alongside reforms that expand eligibility.”

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have passed similar legislation.

Attorney General Mark Herring’s office said in a news release Monday that Malvo had agreed to dismiss his case because of the bill’s passage. He had been convicted of four life sentences without parole in Virginia for his role in a series of 2002 sniper attacks.

“In order for the commonwealth to agree to dismiss the case, Malvo has agreed not to seek any resentencing. The life sentences he received in Virginia will remain in place,” Herring’s office said.

The Washington Post reports that “The Supreme Court has ruled that defendants 17 years old and younger should not be sentenced to life terms without parole unless the judge has considered whether their crime ‘reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity,’ or that the defendant is ‘the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption.’ Those exact criteria did not exist when Malvo was sentenced by a jury in December 2003, or by a Fairfax County judge in March 2004.”