I have long written about the appalling injustices of sex offender lists, particularly the fact that so many teenagers who have sex with other teenagers end up listed as sex offenders for the rest of their lives because of them. Here’s a recent case that highlights so much that is wrong with those lists and with our criminal justice system as a whole.
At 15 years old, Edgar Coker Jr. was accused of raping a 14 year old girl that he knew. Prosecutors offered him a Faustian bargain — plead guilty and go to a juvenile facility, or face being charged as an adult and spending far longer in a real prison. His attorney, court-appointed of course, urged him to accept the deal and he did. Two months later, the girl recanted and said that they had had consensual sex, but she lied about it because she thought her parents would be mad at her for having sex. She wrote a letter to the court saying that she had lied when her mother caught them having sex.
He still spent 17 months in juvenile detention. And he was still placed on the sex offender registry, which is why he was arrested recently when he went with his brothers to see a high school football game — he can’t be on any school property. Now the family is trying to clear his name, but the prosecutors are, of course, fighting against that even though they know he’s innocent.
Meanwhile, the state attorney general’s office has sought to have Coker’s claim dismissed, arguing that because he is no longer in prison, the court does not have jurisdiction to hear his case. A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said the office does not comment on pending cases.
The family has moved several times, twice because of complaints from neighbors who learned that Edgar Coker Jr. was on the registry. Once, a neighborhood girl made a false sexual allegation against one of his brothers, and someone else left this note on their door when they lived in Stafford County: “We don’t want a rapist living in our neighborhood.”
Similar notes have been left for them over the years, and the frequent moves have disrupted their careers and complicated the duty of raising their other children.
“The hardest thing has been trying to keep our family intact, moving from place to place with all the things we’ve had to deal with,” said Dulaney, 40. She said the family hasn’t always made the right decisions and that fear of the charges clouded the desire to fight the accusations. “We’ve moved. We’ve lost houses. We’ve lost jobs.”
Even Sousa, 44, the girl’s mother, has weighed in, speaking out publicly that Coker deserves justice.
“This is all because my daughter lied, and it’s been very hard to deal with that,” she said in an interview. “I can’t image what Edgar and his family have gone through. I hope everything they’re doing can make this situation right again.”
But the prosecutors don’t care. Neither did the judge. Just another example of how our criminal (in)justice system operates. Jacob Sullum had an excellent article about the outrages of sex offender registries in Reason’s criminal justice issue in July.