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Bowling v. Director, Virginia Department of Corrections

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

April 2, 2019

THOMAS FRANKLIN BOWLING, Petitioner - Appellant,
v.
DIRECTOR, Virginia Department of Corrections, Respondent - Appellee.

          Argued: January 29, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, at Roanoke. Jackson L. Kiser, Senior District Judge. (7:17-cv-00142-JLK-RSB)

         ARGUED:

          Claire Cahill, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          Brittany Marie Jones, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF VIRGINIA, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Erica Hashimoto, Director, Aaron M. Steeg, Student Counsel, Appellate Litigation Program, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, Victoria N. Pearson, Deputy Attorney General, Laura Haeberle Cahill, Assistant Attorney General, Toby J. Heytens, Solicitor General, Matthew R. McGuire, Principal Deputy Solicitor General, Michelle S. Kallen, Deputy Solicitor General, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF VIRGINIA, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee.

          Before THACKER and RICHARDSON, Circuit Judges, and TRAXLER, Senior Circuit Judge.

          THACKER, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         This appeal arises from the Virginia Parole Board's ("the Parole Board") repeated denial of parole to Thomas Franklin Bowling ("Appellant"). Appellant was sentenced to life with parole when he was 17 years old. He first became eligible for parole on April 26, 2005. The Parole Board has considered his eligibility and denied him parole annually ever since. Appellant alleges that, because the Parole Board was not specifically required to consider age-related characteristics unique to juvenile offenders when it has processed his parole applications, the Parole Board's repeated denial of his applications violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

         On that ground, Appellant initiated this action against the Director of the Virginia Department of Corrections ("Appellee"). Appellee moved to dismiss Appellant's complaint, and the district court granted Appellee's motion to dismiss. Regarding Appellant's Eighth Amendment claim, the district court held that juvenile-specific Eighth Amendment protections do not apply to Appellant because he was sentenced to life with parole. Regarding Appellant's Fourteenth Amendment claims, the district court held that the Parole Board procedures satisfy procedural due process requirements. For the reasons stated below, we affirm the decision of the district court.

         I.

         In 1988, Appellant was convicted of capital murder, robbery, marijuana possession, and two counts of use of a firearm in connection with his role in a botched robbery that resulted in a homicide. He was sentenced to two life sentences, plus six years and thirty days, with the possibility of parole. He was 17 years old at the time.

          In 2005, Appellant became eligible for parole. Every year since 2005, the Parole Board has considered Appellant's eligibility for parole. Each of those years, the Parole Board "review[ed] and evaluat[ed] . . . all available information pertaining to [Appellant's] case" and decided "not to grant [Appellant] parole." J.A. 83-103.[1] Over the years, the Parole Board noted its reasons for denying Appellant parole as follows:

2005-2007: "Serious nature and circumstances of the crime." J.A. 37-39.
• 2008-2009: "Serious nature and circumstances of the crime," and "Prior offense history indicates disregard for the law." ...

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