Juvenile Justice VA / Mario Reyes
Juvenile Justice VA / Mario Reyes
We at Juvenile Justice VA are fighting to right the wrongs our criminal justice system has perpetuated against juvenile offenders by imposing upon them lengthy prison sentences that are unethical, immoral, and unconstitutional. We believe it is unjust for any Court of Law to hold juvenile offenders to adult standards and to punish them as such. Our mission is to highlight these cases of sentencing abuse and work with our growing network of juvenile justice advocates to bring about solutions that allow closure for any victims involved while also ensuring that the unique psychological factors of juvenile offenders are taken into account in their punishment.
When Mario Reyes was 15 years old, he and one of his friends got into what was supposed to have been a fistfight with another group of teens at their neighborhood park. Prior to this day, Mario had no serious criminal history or history of violence. However, the fistfight got out of hand when Mario's friend grabbed a baseball bat and hit one of the other teens with it. That teen later died from his injuries. Although Mario was not the person who used the weapon or delivered those fatal blows, he and his friend were both charged and convicted of first-degree murder. Mario's culpability in the fight is without question, but he did not commit first degree murder, nor should he have been convicted of it.
While Mario was awaiting trial, his public defender convinced him to enter a plea agreement for 10 to 15 years in prison under the threat that if he did not accept the plea, he would receive a life sentence. What's important here is that Mario was allowed to enter this plea agreement without his mother's presence or consent.
In 2012, at just 16 years old, Mario was sentenced to 50 years in prison with 22 years suspended, leaving him to serve a total of 28 years behind bars. Any period of confinement that exceeds 25 years is considered life imprisonment in most states, including Virginia. It has been ruled unconstitutional to sentence juvenile offenders to life imprisonment; likewise, sentences that constitute the equivalent of life imprisonment, such as Mario's 28 years sentence, should also be deemed unconstitutional and given consideration for reduction / commutation. Mario is one of many offenders in Virginia, and across the nation, who were handed these harsh sentences as juveniles.
Throughout the ten years Mario has been incarcerated, he has matured from a 16 year old adolescent to a 25 year old adult. Ten years in prison is by any measure a proportionate and parsimonious punishment for his role leading to the offense that was committed. More importantly, he has spent his time behind bars productively, obtaining his GED and completing the requisite rehabilitative programs. Mario takes full responsibility for the harm he's caused and continues to show remorse through his genuine desire to change his behavior.
No child should be sentenced to spend 28 years (a technical life sentence) behind bars being punished for decisions they made as juveniles. After spending a decade in prison, the means of Mario's incarceration have been met. Giving his status as a juvenile at the time of the offense, as well as all the other mitigating circumstances, we are seeking executive clemency for Mario. If granted, this will allow him to return home to his family where he can make positive contributions to society. Mario hopes to use his story as a cautionary tale to help deter other at-risk adolescents from making the poor choices he made (choosing the wrong peer groups). Please help Mario receive a second chance at his freedom by signing this petition in the interest of juvenile justice.