Vasquez v. Virginia

Juvenile Law Center filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of Virginia in support of Darien Vasquez and Brandon Valentin, who are appealing their sentences of 133 years and 68 years respectively for nonhomicide crimes committed when each was 16-years-old.

The brief argued that because Virginia law prohibits the opportunity for parole and provides only the possibility for geriatric release at age 60, Mr. Vasquez and Mr. Valentin’s sentences are the functional equivalent of life without parole for non-homicide offenses. The sentences violate the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Graham v. Florida, which held that juvenile offenders cannot be sentenced to life for non-homicide offenses without a meaningful and realistic opportunity for re-entry into society prior to the expiration of their sentence. We argue that the possibility of geriatric release after serving decades in prison does not constitute a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release.”

The Supreme Court of Virginia held that Mr. Vasquez and Mr. Valentin’s sentences were not a violation of Graham because rather than “involve[ing] a single crime resulting in a single life-without-parole sentence,” each was convicted of multiple crimes whose aggregate sentences amounted to life without parole.

Mr. Vasquez and Mr. Valentin filed a petition for certiorari in the United States Supreme Court. Juvenile Law Center filed an amicus brief in support of the petition. Unfortunately, the petition was denied on December 5, 2016, without addressing the constitutionality of imposing aggregate term-of-years sentences which exceed a juveniles life expectancy.