Virginia’s Sentencing Laws Gave Six Life Terms to 15-Year-Old For Armed Robbery

| by Allison Geller

Travion Blount of Norfolk, Va., is serving what some are calling the harshest sentence yet for a juvenile who did not commit murder: six life sentences.

Blount, now 23, was 15 at the time that he and two 18-year-olds committed armed robbery at a house party. One of the 18-year-olds struck someone with the butt of the gun, but no shots were fired, according to the ACLU Center for Justice.

The two 18-year-olds pleaded guilty and accepted prison sentences of 10 and 13 years. Blount decided to go to trial instead, turning down the prosecution’s offer of 18 years in prison.

At the trial, Blount was found guilty of 24 firearm counts and sentenced to 118 years in prison without the possibility of parole. His only chance of leaving prison is through geriatric release at age 60, an unlikely possibility.

Blount’s case has raised doubts about the effectiveness of Virginia’s harsh juvenile sentencing laws. In the Virginian-Pilot’s coverage of the case, the newspaper reported that Virginia is one of 11 states that impose life sentences without parole on juveniles for nonhomicide convictions. Virginia abolished parole in 1995.

Several states have changed their practices since the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that extreme sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional, due to studies that show the psychological and emotional differences between teens and adults.

Ashley Nellis, a senior research analyst for The Sentencing Project, estimated that 200 inmates across the country are serving life without parole for a juvenile crime that did not involve a homicide.

“Virginia has not taken any action,” she said.

Attorney John Coggeshall, who represents Blount as a pro bono case, said that Blount has changed since the trial, when he was too shy and immature to make his case for the prosecution.

“He was a little boy who wouldn’t listen to anybody back then,” Coggeshall said. Now, Blount wants to take part in prison education programs to learn and grow. “He’s more aware, astute, worldly, perceptive.”

Blount accepted responsibility for his role in the robbery in a recent interview, and said he regrets his decision to go to trial. He didn’t anticipate his friends testifying against him, or that he would be given a sentence longer than 18 years.

 “Who would have thought I would get six life sentences?” Blount said.

Sources: ACLU, Virginian-Pilot