Jenner & Block

Jenner & Block Wins Virginia Pardon for Pro Bono Client with Autism

Jenner & Block won the release of an autistic client who had been held in solitary confinement as a result of actions related to his disability.  On January 20, 2015, Virginia Governor  Terry McAuliffe granted a rare pardon to Reginald “Neli” Latson, a 23-year-old African American man.  The firm began representing Mr. Latson in 2011 after he was convicted of assaulting a police officer and a jury recommended that he spend more than10 years in prison.  The incident occurred after a police officer approached Mr. Latson and demanded his name because Mr. Latson was wearing a hoodie and looked “suspicious.”  The firm persuaded the court to reduce the sentence to about two years, most of which Mr. Latson had served.  But because of his autism, Mr. Latson became involved and was prosecuted for two additional assaults, including of a prison guard.  He ended up spending most of his time in solitary confinement in prison. 

When the courts of Virginia failed, the team took the cause to traditional media outlets such as the Washington Post and Associated Press as well as to social media.  

Eventually, organizations such as the ACLU and The Arc, and even the federal Department of Justice, gave their support.  Families across the country with children with disabilities flooded the governor’s office with letters.  Mr. Latson is expected to be released from prison this week and enrolled into a special treatment program in Florida. 

The principal team consisted of Partners Julie M. Carpenter, Melissa A. Cox and David A. Handzo.  Associates Marina K. Jenkins and Manuel C. Possolo and former associate Kristen Rogers also contributed greatly.  News of Mr. Latson’s pardon was covered by a variety of autism support groups, such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Autism Speaks and the Autism Daily Newscast.