RICHMOND, VA -- On November 9, 2023, Relman Colfax and ACLU of Virginia client Leslie Puryear was released from prison and returned home to his family, and on November 13, 2023, VADOC made clear that it would apply a 2020 expansion of Virginia’s earned sentence credit law to all people with Mr. Puryear’s conviction, reducing time in prison for potentially hundreds of people.
The earned sentence credit program, established in 1995, set the rate at which people incarcerated in Virginia could earn early release through program participation and conduct in prison. Virginia’s General Assembly passed a law in 2020 increasing the rate at which people can earn credits under the program. The expansion of the program was enacted in 2022, and the law states that all but a few enumerated convictions are eligible for the expanded credits. But for more than a year, VADOC improperly withheld earned sentence credits from people whose convictions were not listed among the excluded crimes. This continued to be the case even after the Virginia Supreme Court decided Prease v. Clarke, holding that people with convictions similar to Mr. Puryear’s were entitled to expanded sentence credits.
In September, Relman Colfax filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on Mr. Puryear’s behalf, challenging his continued incarceration by the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) in spite of having earned sufficient sentence credits for release and in spite of Prease’s clear holding. After Relman Colfax filed the habeas petition, VADOC reversed course, releasing Mr. Puryear. Then, on November 13, VADOC filed a statement of mootness in the habeas case, saying it would apply Prease to everyone with Mr. Puryear’s conviction, rendering hundreds of people who have earned sentence credits through diligent effort eligible for earlier release.
The brief and petition filed on behalf of Mr. Puryear challenged this practice, and VADOC has now adopted the petition’s position, making eligible potentially hundreds of people who have worked for years under incredibly difficult circumstances to earn their release.
The petition and memorandum in support, along with the suggestion of mootness, can be found here.
Relman Colfax co-counseled the case with the ACLU of Virginia. The Relman Colfax case team is led by Rebecca Livengood and David DePriest, with paralegal assistance from Jazmin Trenco.