Friday, February 21, 2014

Candy Hatcher: Flaws in the State's Sex Offender Registry. HB523 and Edgar Coker Jr.

OpEd: Flaws in the state's sex offender registry, February 21, 2014
The Virginia Sex Offender Registry exists to keep society safe, especially its children. 

Sometimes, it does just the opposite. 

Sometimes, the law that prevents sex offenders from being on school property and around kids isolates and stigmatizes innocent people. It can ruin lives. 

Edgar Coker Jr. was 15 when a 14-year-old neighborhood girl accused him of rape in 2007. His Stafford County lawyer failed to investigate the claim and advised Edgar to plead guilty to avoid a lengthy prison sentence. 

He went to juvenile prison, and his name was added to the state registry, which publicly identifies and tracks the people who have been required to register as sex offenders. 

Two months later, the girl admitted she had lied. 

Edgar, now 22, has spent the past seven years trying to clear his name. 

He was released from juvenile prison in 2009, but courts refused to consider his claim of innocence. 

The unusual part of this story is not that Edgar was placed on the state sex offender registry with 20,000 others; it's that he finally got his name off. Last week, a judge found that his lawyer had done a sorry job representing him. She overturned the conviction and ordered his name removed from the sex offender list. 

The young man, who had struggled to find a job because of the registry, whose family had moved repeatedly because of harassment, who essentially had confined himself to home to avoid any trouble, now waits to see whether Attorney General Mark Herring will appeal - or whether Stafford County prosecutors will ask for a retrial.