Mathena v. Malvo


Mathena v. Malvo is another case regarding the sentencing of juvenile criminals. The offender in this case is Lee Boyd Malvo, otherwise known as the D.C. Sniper. Malvo was 17 when he and his partner in crime John Allen Muhammad murdered 17 people during a nationwide eight-month-long terrorist crime spree. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the fall of 2019 but dismissed the case in the winter of 2020 after Virginia enacted new laws allowing Malvo and other offenders who are serving time for crimes committed as juveniles to seek parole after 20 years.


Between February and October 2002, 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo and John Allen Muhammad went on a massive terrorist crime spree, brutally murdering 17 people and injuring 10 others. The killing spree began with the murder of 21-year-old Keenya Nicole Cook on February 16 in Washington State. Malvo and Muhammed then proceeded to take the lives of more victims in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. After murdering 45-year-old Hong Im Ballenger in Louisiana in September, the assailants moved on to the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area. Between October 2 and October 22, Malvo and Muhammad terrorized the D.C. and Baltimore metro areas. The victims of the D.C. Snipers are listed in our memorial for the victims.

The snipers were apprehended and convicted of the murders. Muhammad was sentenced to death and was executed in 2009. Malvo was given several life without parole (LWOP) sentences. After Miller v. Alabama Malvo filed applications for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The Court dismissed them both. After Montgomery, the Court granted his applications and vacated his sentences. This holding was upheld by the Fourth District Court of Appeals. The state of Virginia appealed to SCOTUS. SCOTUS granted certiorari and oral arguments were held in October of 2019.


Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit erred in concluding—in direct conflict with Virginia’s highest court and other courts—that a decision of the Supreme Court, Montgomery v. Louisiana, addressing whether a new constitutional rule announced in an earlier decision, Miller v. Alabama, applies retroactively on collateral review may properly be interpreted as modifying and substantively expanding the very rule whose retroactivity was in question.


The case was dismissed in February 2020 after Virginia enacted legislation allowing offenders to seek parole after 20 years if the crime they are serving time for was committed when they were under 18. Malvo is now eligible for parole in 2022. If he is paroled he still would have to serve several life sentences in Maryland. The next juvenile sentencing case the Court will hear is Jones v Mississippi.