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Reformers rallying to help young VA man facing 6 life terms

Last week the focus of our blog was a study about how the justice system in Virginia is out of date, apparently stacked against defendants of color and ineffective at actually preventing many crimes. This week, our attention is drawn to a case that perhaps highlights how some of those issues may be playing out in the life of one particular person.

His name is Travion Blount. At the time he committed the crimes for which he was convicted he was just 15. He is now 23. Two older co-defendants, 18, also were involved. They pleaded guilty to criminal charges and testified against the younger defendant. They received sentences of just 10 and 13 years. The juvenile defendant was sentenced to six life terms plus 118 years.

Certainly, any juvenile crime charge is serious and should be fought to protect the rights and ensure the possible future of every defendant. According to the official records in this case, the three defendants participated in an armed robbery of 12 people at a party in 2006. No shots were fired, however, and nobody was injured.

At Blount's sentencing, the judge said he was bound by law to impose the massive punishment because a weapon had been used. But legal experts say it may be the longest sentence ever issued against a juvenile for a crime that didn't involve homicide.

But Blount is not alone. The Virginia Department of Corrections says there are at least 22 others like him serving life without parole for non-homicide crimes they committed as juveniles.

Reformers argue that Blount's case and the others reflect that the Virginia penal system needs to be changed to allow for greater flexibility and to support potential rehabilitation. In that vein, one Northern Virginia Democrat says he will introduce a bill to grant judges more discretion in amending sentences for some juvenile offenders after they've served at least 20 years.

Meanwhile, members of the Norfolk NAACP are undertaking to rally support around efforts to get Blount's sentence reduced and to see state laws changed.

Source: The Virginian-Pilot, "Lawmakers, activists seek reduced sentence for teen," Louis Hansen, Dec. 3, 2013

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