E.C. v. Virginia Dep’t of Juvenile Justice

In 2011, NJDC filed an amicus brief and a supporting supplemental brief, joined by Mid-Atlantic Juvenile Defender Center, the Disability Law Clinic, the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, and other interested parties, in support of a challenge to the lower court’s ruling that Virginia courts lose jurisdiction over pending habeas cases as soon as petitioners are released from custody.

Amici argued that the lower court’s ruling disproportionately affected juveniles by denying them access to the courts particularly because they face heightened barriers to filing for habeas relief while incarcerated and are more likely to file after they have been released. In E.C.’s case, the alleged victim recanted her accusations of rape, and E.C. was released on parole. However, the lower court’s ruling prohibited E.C. from challenging the adjudication and subsequent sex offender registration, because he was no longer in custody. Amici asserted that habeas review is the only mechanism by which juveniles can protect their right to effective assistance of counsel. In Virginia, a petitioner may not raise ineffectiveness of counsel on direct appeal, thus a juvenile defendant can only raise ineffectiveness in a habeas petition after direct appeal is exhausted.

In the brief, amici addressed factors unique to Virginia’s juvenile court system including a juvenile court culture which often discourages zealous advocacy and may undermine the reliability of juvenile adjudications. Building on the original filing, the supplemental brief included additional analysis based on the Supreme Court of the United States’s decision in J.D.B v. North Carolina, which supports the notion that children are different and deserve special protections, as the Court previously recognized in Graham v. Florida and Roper v. Simmons.

On March 2, 2012, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued a favorable opinion, ruling that E.C. may avail himself of the habeas remedy and can sue to have his original conviction overturned and his name removed from the state’s sex offender registry. This decision is a great one as it is the first time the VA Supreme Court considered whether collateral consequences stemming from a criminal conviction are sufficient to survive a claim of mootness in a habeas corpus proceeding. In relevant part the court stated: “[W]e hold that the collateral consequences imposed on E.C. by the convictions he is challenging are sufficient to sustain a continued controversy.”

Court: Supreme Court of Virginia
Filed: September 27, 2011 (download .pdf)
Amicus Brief Discusses: Adolescent Development; Collateral Consequences; Juvenile Sex Offender Registration

Oral Argument: January 13, 2012
Decision:
March 2, 2012 (download .pdf)