The ACLU of Virginia filed Garcia Vasquez v. Dotson challenging Virginia Department of Correction's (VADOC) refusal to award expanded sentence credits to people with certain convictions, unlawfully extending their incarceration. ACLU of Virginia argued the case in front of the Supreme Court of Virginia on January 10, 2024. You can listen to the arguments here. On April 18, 2024 the Supreme Court of Virginia issued a ruling finding that VADOC unlawfully extended the incarceration of Mr. Garcia Vasquez by more than eighteen months by withholding sentence credits he worked hard to earn and that VADOC must release him.

Since 1995, the earned sentence credit program has made it possible for some people incarcerated in Virginia to earn their release. In 2020, Virginia’s General Assembly passed a law increasing how many credits people can earn. This expansion of the program was expected to impact thousands of people currently incarcerated in VADOC facilities.

Yet for almost two years, VADOC has been improperly withholding earned sentence credits from people who are eligible to earn them. The law clearly states which offenses are not eligible for the additional earned sentence credits, but VADOC extended the law beyond what the General Assembly enacted in order to withhold credits from people who should be eligible because their convictions are not listed among the excluded crimes.

Mr. Jose Garcia Vasquez, 24, has never seen his daughter – now a second grader – outside of prison. In between completing college classes, an electrician course, and working 30 hours every week in a prison job, he squeezes in time to talk to her every single day on the phone.

Mr. Garcia Vasquez is one of hundreds of people who followed the rules of the earned sentence credit program, only to have VADOC’s unlawful interpretation of the law deny them the release they had already worked hard to earn. 

Garcia Vasquez v. Dotson is the third case that the ACLU of Virginia has filed on behalf of incarcerated people who were told they would be released, only to be told later they didn’t qualify for the earned sentence credit program. The Supreme Court of Virginia already ruled in Prease v. Clarke, agreeing that VADOC’s interpretation of the law is incorrect and ordering Mr. Steven Prease’s immediate release to his family in southwest Virginia. After the Prease decision, the VADOC reversed course in another ACLU of VA case, Puryear v. Dotson, and agreed that Mr. Puryear's convictions were eligible for enhanced sentence credits, resulting in his release. 

The ACLU of Virginia expects VADOC to apply this ruling to everyone in its custody with convictions for attempts, conspiracies, or solicitations that should be eligible for enhanced credits.

Attorney(s)

Geri Greenspan, Vishal Agraharkar

Date filed

September 25, 2023

Court

Supreme Court of Virginia

Status

Victory!