DC-area sniper appeals life sentences given to him as a juvenile

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(WASHINGTON) — The Maryland Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on Tuesday over whether Lee Boyd Malvo, the last living D.C.-area sniper, should be given a revised sentence under new federal and state laws that apply to those convicted of crimes as juveniles.

In 2002, Malvo, who was then 17, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison after a sniper spree nearly 20 years ago in which 10 people were killed and another three wounded in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia over a span of 22 days.

In 2009, Malvo pleaded guilty for his role in killing six people in Montgomery County, Maryland, and received six life sentences without the possibility of parole. That same year, Malvo’s co-conspirator, John Allen Muhammad, was executed by lethal injection after being sentenced to death in Virginia.

However, because Malvo committed the crimes as a juvenile in 2002, new laws have given his attorneys fresh arguments to try to gain Malvo’s release.

Kiran Iyer, a lawyer for Malvo, claimed that his client’s age was not considered when he was sentenced to the six life sentences in Maryland in 2006.

Iyer claimed the judge who sentenced Malvo did not take into account Malvo’s immaturity and what the law terms the “diminished capacity” of juvenile offenders.

Malvo’s lawyer argued the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case Miller v. Alabama, which said mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders is unconstitutional and violates the 8th Amendment, should be applied in Malvo’s case.

Iyer also argued new Maryland laws, including the Juvenile Restoration Act (JUVRA) that lets prisoners convicted as juveniles seek release after serving at least 20 years in prison, should apply. Juvenile offenders imprisoned at least 20 years can now file motion three times to attempt to receive a reduced sentence.

In recent years, lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia have passed similar legislation to abolish sentences of life without parole for crimes committed by juveniles.

Malvo, who is currently serving four life sentences for his conviction in Virginia, could be paroled in that state under new JUVRA laws. However, as things now stand, he’d then have to begin serving his Maryland sentence, needing to wait another 20 years to be considered for JUVRA consideration in Maryland.

On Tuesday, Malvo’s attorney asked the court to consider his sentences in Virginia and Maryland as one, noting, because of his conviction in Virginia, Malvo may never enter Maryland state custody. Iyer asked “for a meaningful opportunity for release from [Malvo’s] Maryland sentences.”

Carrie J. Williams, a Maryland assistant attorney general, attempted to poke holes in Malvo’s appeal to Maryland’s highest court. She argued that under Virginia laws, Malvo will have a meaningful opportunity for release starting later this year in Virginia due to a state law there that allows juvenile offenders to have a parole hearing after 20 years. She added that Maryland and Virginia did not violate the 8th Amendment or the Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama, because of the way JUVRA laws work.

She also argued that Malvo was nearly 18 when he committed the crime and noted, because of his age and laws at the time of the killings, he isn’t serving life without parole.

Williams told the court, “Mr. Malvo was nearly 18 when he committed these crimes is certainly relevant, it is certainly relevant for consideration when deciding whether he could be appropriately sentenced to life without parole. But in this case, because of JUVRA. He’s not serving life without parole, and in fact, because his sentence should not be considered in the aggregate. And in fact, no one is any longer serving life without parole in Maryland for crimes that they committed as a juvenile.”

She went after Malvo’s attorney’s plea that his sentencing in Maryland and Virginia should aggregate, noting the planning and length of the crimes he committed.

Williams argued “Mr. Malvo had multiple, multiple opportunities to reflect upon each one of his 10 bad decisions and the bad decisions that have not been prosecuted but to which Mr. Malvo has confessed. If Mr. Malvo’s sentences aggregate — if this court holds that Mr. Malvo’s sentences must be considered as one single sentence — it will be close to a per se rule that all juvenile sentences must aggregate. Because it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the where the– argument against aggregation would be stronger.”

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