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Blount v. Clarke

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

May 15, 2018

TRAVION BLOUNT, Petitioner-Appellee,
v.
HAROLD W. CLARKE, Director of the Virginia Department of Corrections, Respondent-Appellant.

          Argued: January 24, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Norfolk. Arenda L. Wright Allen, District Judge. (2:12-cv-00699-AWA-RJK)

         ARGUED:

          Matthew Robert McGuire, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF VIRGINIA, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellant.

          John Arthur Coggeshall, Norfolk, Virginia, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, Trevor S. Cox, Acting Solicitor General, Katherine Quinlan Adelfio, Assistant Attorney General, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF VIRGINIA, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellant.

          Before WILKINSON, NIEMEYER, and MOTZ, Circuit Judges.

          NIEMEYER, Circuit Judge.

         Travion Blount was sentenced by a Virginia state court in March 2008 to six consecutive terms of life imprisonment plus 118 years' imprisonment for nonhomicide crimes that he committed when he was 15 years old. Under Virginia law, Blount was subject to a geriatric release program, under which he would have been eligible for conditional release once he turned 60 years old. See Va. Code Ann. § 53.1-40.01.

         After the Supreme Court decided Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), which prohibited juvenile offenders convicted of nonhomicide crimes from being sentenced to life without parole, Blount filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus in the district court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, arguing that he was entitled to a new sentencing hearing under Graham. While the application was pending, however, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell issued Blount a partial pardon, reducing his sentence to 40 years' imprisonment. The Director of the Virginia Department of Corrections ("the Commonwealth") accordingly requested that Blount's habeas application be dismissed as moot.

         The district court denied the Commonwealth's motion and granted Blount habeas relief, ordering (in two separate orders) that he be resentenced in light of Graham. On appeal, the Commonwealth contends that the district court erred in several respects, including by (1) relying on our decision in LeBlanc v. Mathena, 841 F.3d 256 (4th Cir. 2016) (affirming the grant of habeas relief in similar circumstances), even after that decision was reversed by the Supreme Court in Virginia v. LeBlanc, 137 S.Ct. 1726 (2017) (per curiam); and (2) refusing to dismiss Blount's habeas application as moot following Governor McDonnell's partial pardon as required by our decision in United States v. Surratt, 855 F.3d 218 (4th Cir. 2017) (en banc), and instead electing to follow the dissenting opinion in Surratt as more persuasive.

         We agree with the Commonwealth's position and accordingly vacate the relevant orders of the district court granting habeas relief and remand with instructions to dismiss Blount's ...


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