Resentencing of Teen DC Sniper Faces High Court Scrutiny

Lee Boyd Malvo enters a courtroom in Virginia Beach, Va., in 2003. (Photo by Davis Turner/AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether a teen who carried out sniper attacks in Washington, D.C., in 2002 should be resentenced.

Lee Boyd Malvo was just 17 in the fall of 2002 when he and John Allen Muhammad, then 41, terrorized the suburbs of the nation’s capital with sniper attacks that killed 17 people.

While Muhammad was sentenced to death and executed in 2009, Malvo was given four life sentences pursuant to a plea deal in Virginia.

His case got a second act, however, after the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case Montgomery v. Louisiana in 2016. The ruling gave retroactive effect to a 2012 ruling, Miller v. Alabama, which says mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

But Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring argued in a petition for certiorari that the Fourth Circuit’s ruling flatly contravenes state precedent.

“Virginia’s highest court has adopted a diametrically opposed interpretation of Montgomery,” the petition states. “In its view, Montgomery did not extend Miller to include discretionary sentencing schemes but rather held only that the new rule of constitutional law announced in Miller applied retroactively to cases on collateral review. The Supreme Court of Virginia acknowledged that prohibiting discretionary life sentences for juvenile homicide offenders may be the next step in this court’s Eighth Amendment jurisprudence, but it concluded that both Montgomery and Miller ‘addressed mandatory life sentences without possibility of parole.’” 

Rather than issue a statement Monday, Herring’s office recirculated a statement issued ahead of Fourth Circuit arguments.

“Malvo remains a convicted mass murderer who terrorized an entire region with his heinous and cold blooded killings,” Herring said at the time. “I will keep working to ensure that he faces justice and serves the sentences that were imposed.”

Malvo’s attorney, Janet Carter at WilmerHale and Dorr, argues meanwhile that there is no conflict between the state and federal rulings.

“As to these [13 cases cited by the state], what the commonwealth presents as a conflict regarding Miller and Montgomery is in fact nothing more than the conflict Montgomery itself resolved,” Carter said in an opposition brief.

Malvo’s attorneys have not returned a request for comment.

Per its custom Monday, the Supreme Court did not issue any statement in taking up case.

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