The Virginia Supreme Court ruled Friday that a Virginia man falsely accused of rape in 2007 can sue to have his original conviction overturned and his name removed from the state’s sex offender registry.
The ruling represents a major victory for Edgar Coker, Jr. and his family. The family has fought for four years to have his initial rape conviction set aside. Coker, then 15, spent 17 months in a state juvenile facility after he plead guilty to raping a 14-year-old friend. His attorney recommended the plea rather than risk adult charges and a lengthy term. Soon after he went to prison, his accuser recanted.
In its opinion, the court said that the Stafford Court erred in 2009 when it said that it did not have jurisdiction to hear Coker’s claim that he received ineffective counsel.
On behalf of the Stafford Court, the state attorney general’s office argued in January that the Stafford Court was correct because when Coker’s lawyers filed the claim, Coker was on parole but had been released from prison. They argued that the court no longer had jurisdiction to hear his claim.
The court saw it differently. “Jurisdiction did not end because [Coker] was released from detention during the course of the proceeding,” the court wrote. The court also agreed with Coker’s attorneys that Coker still is impacted by the effects of the false accusal and conviction: He remains on the sex offender registry. As a result, he was arrested last year for attending a Friday night football game at his high school alma mater.
Friday’s decision clears the way for Coker, now 20, to have another day in court in Stafford. The family has long contended that Coker’s attorney, Denise Rafferty, failed to investigate the case fully and then advised him to plead guilty because, she said, there was DNA evidence linking him to the crime. But a lab report shows a DNA test was never conducted. Rafferty has said she did everything she could to help the family mount a defense.
Coker’s mother, Cherri Dulaney, said that after so much hard work she and her family were relieved that they will have another chance to help their son. “I was speechless, ecstatic in fact,” she said after hearing the news Friday morning. “We had a good feeling about [their case] but...it seems that the light at the end of the tunnel is getting a little brighter.”
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