VIRGINIA, ET AL.
PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF
APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
(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
this Court. 28 U.S.C. §2254(d)(1). In this case, the
Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that this
demanding standard was met by a Virginia court's
application of Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48
(2010). The question presented is whether the Court of
Appeals erred in concluding that the state court's ruling
involved an unreasonable application of this Court's
6, 1999, respondent Dennis LeBlanc raped a 62-year-old woman.
He was 16 at the time. In 2003, a state trial court sentenced
him to life in prison for his crimes. In the 1990's,
Virginia had, for felony offenders, abolished parole that
followed a traditional framework. See Va. Code Ann.
§53.1-165.1 (2013). As a form of replacement, Virginia
enacted its so-called "geriatric release" program,
which allows older inmates to receive conditional release
under some circumstances. LeBlanc v. Mathena, 841
F.3d 256, 261 (CA4 2016) (citing Va. Code Ann.
years after respondent was sentenced, this Court decided
Graham v. Florida. Graham established that the
Eighth Amendment prohibits juvenile offenders convicted of
nonhomicide offenses from being sentenced to life with- out
parole. While a "State is not required to guarantee
eventual freedom to a juvenile offender convicted of a
nonhomicide crime, " the Court held, it must "give
defendants like Graham some meaningful opportunity to obtain
release based on demonstrated maturity and
rehabilitation." 540 U.S., at 75. The Court in
Graham left it to the States, "in the first
instance, to explore the means and mechanisms for
compliance" with the Graham rule.
later filed a motion in state trial court-the Virginia Beach
Circuit Court-seeking to vacate his sentence in light of
Graham. The trial court denied the motion. In so
doing, it relied on the Supreme Court of Virginia's
decision in Angel v. Commonwealth, 281 Va. 248, 704
S.E.2d 386 (2011). The Angel court held that
Virginia's geriatric release program satisfies
Graham's requirement of parole for juvenile
offenders. The statute establishing the program provides:
"Any person serving a sentence imposed upon a conviction
for a felony offense . . . (i) who has reached the age of
sixty-five or older and who has served at least five years of
the sentence imposed or (ii) who has reached the age of sixty
or older and who has served at least ten years of the
sentence imposed may petition the Parole Board for
conditional release." §53.1-40.01.
Angel court explained that "[t]he regulations
for conditional release under this statute provide that if
the prisoner meets the qualifications for consideration
contained in the statute, the factors used in the normal
parole consideration process apply to conditional release
decisions under this statute." 281 Va., at 275, 704
S.E.2d, at 402. The geriatric release program thus complied
with Graham, the Angel court held, because
it provided "the meaningful opportunity to obtain
release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation
required by the Eighth Amendment." 281 Va., at 275, 704
S.E.2d, at 402 (internal quotation marks omitted).
Virginia Supreme Court, in reviewing the trial court's
ruling in the instant case, summarily denied respondent's
requests for appeal and for rehearing.
2012, respondent filed a federal habeas petition in the
Eastern District of Virginia pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§2254. A Magistrate Judge recommended dismissing the
petition, but the District Court disagreed and granted the
writ. The District Court explained that "there is no
possibility that fairminded jurists could disagree that the
state court's decision conflicts wit[h] the dictates of
Graham." LeBlanc v. Mathena, 2015 WL 4042175,
*18 (July 1, 2015).
divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
affirmed, holding that the state trial court's ruling was
an unreasonable application of Graham. 841 F.3d, at
259-260. In the panel majority's view, Virginia's
geriatric release program did not provide a meaningful
opportunity for juvenile nonhomicide offenders to obtain
release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.
Niemeyer dissented. He criticized the majority for
"fail[ing] to respect, in any meaningful way, the
deference Congress requires federal courts to give state
court decisions on postconviction review." Id.,
Commonwealth of Virginia petitioned for certiorari. The
petition is now granted, and the judgment is reversed: The
Virginia trial court ...