Relman Colfax secured relief for Leslie Puryear and potentially hundreds of other people in his position in this habeas corpus case, filed with the ACLU of Virginia. The case involved a challenge to continued confinement by the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) after Mr. Puryear had earned sufficient sentence credits to secure his release.

Virginia’s earned sentence credit program, which enables people who are incarcerated to be released early based on conduct and program participation, was amended in 2020 to increase the rate at which people can earn credits. This expansion of the program by its terms should have impacted thousands of people currently incarcerated in VADOC facilities, but since the law became effective in 2022, VADOC improperly withheld earned sentence credits from people eligible for them. The law clearly states that all but a few enumerated convictions are eligible for the expanded credits, but VADOC ignored this and withheld credits from people whose convictions were not listed among the excluded crimes. The Virginia Supreme Court invalidated one aspect of VADOC’s interpretation of the law in Prease v. Clarke, but VADOC continued to refuse to apply that decision beyond people with the exact conviction at issue in Prease, until Mr. Puryear’s petition was filed.

In response to Mr. Puryear’s petition, VADOC amended its approach and said it would apply the expanded sentence credits to everyone with similar convictions to Mr. Puryear, making potentially hundreds of people who have been working diligently in prison eligible for early release. Mr. Puryear himself was released in time to return home to his family for the holidays.

The petition was filed in the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Case Team: Rebecca Livengood, David DePriest, Jazmin Trenco

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