A Virginia man convicted of attempted aggravated murder will be released from prison following a state Supreme Court ruling on Thursday. The court found that the man had been wrongly denied earned sentence credits.

The ACLU of Virginia filed a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections demanding the immediate release of Steven Prease. They argued that the department had misinterpreted a law that expanded the state’s earned sentence credit program.

Since 1995, the earned sentence credit program has allowed many inmates to earn early release for good behavior. In 2020, state lawmakers amended the law to increase the number of credits inmates could earn.

Prease, a military veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder according to the ACLU, was convicted in 2013 of two counts of attempted aggravated murder and other charges for firing a gun at sheriff’s deputies during a domestic dispute. In March 2022, prison officials informed Prease that he would be released between July 1 and August 30, 2022, based on the retroactive application of expanded credits under the law.

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However, one month later, newly elected Attorney General Jason Miyares disagreed with a legal interpretation by former Attorney General Mark Herring. Miyares determined that attempted aggravated murder and conspiracy to commit aggravated murder were not eligible for expanded credits.

As a result, the Department of Corrections extended Prease’s release date by approximately two years, to June 4, 2024.

Virginia Supreme Court

Virginia’s Supreme Court building is pictured on Jan. 15, 2021, in Richmond. The state’s Supreme Court has ordered the release of Steven Prease, a man who was convicted of aggravated murder, after it was found that he was wrongfully denied earned sentence credits.
(Photo by Eze Amos/Getty Images)

In its ruling on Thursday, the state Supreme Court affirmed that the law clearly specifies which offenses are ineligible for additional earned sentence credits. Attempted aggravated murder is not included in the list of ineligible offenses.

“Thus, there is no basis in the governing statutes for denying Prease expanded earned sentence credits on his attempted aggravated murder convictions,” the court stated in its ruling.

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The Department of Corrections has not yet responded to requests for comment on the ruling.

Vishal Agraharkar, Senior Supervising Attorney at the ACLU of Virginia, expects Prease to be released from prison soon following the court’s ruling. Agraharkar is uncertain about the number of other inmates who could be released early due to this decision. However, he estimates that hundreds, if not thousands, were initially informed by prison officials of their early release eligibility but were later disqualified due to an incorrect interpretation of the law, a position now rejected by the Supreme Court.

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“We hope that the Department of Corrections will do the right thing and ensure that the benefits of the earned sentence credits law are applied to everyone eligible under the statute,” Agraharkar commented.

Following a budget amendment from Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin, which excluded inmates with violent offenses, thousands of other inmates were deemed ineligible for expanded credits.


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