Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sex Offender Restrictions Don't Amount to "Custody" for Habeas Corpus

Wilson v. Flaherty: Wilson was one of the "Norfolk Four," a group of sailors charged with the rape and murder of another sailor's wife.  Wilson was acquitted of murder, but convicted of rape in 1999 (since then, subsantial evidence of the innocence of all four men has been presented - see here for more details) and released from prison in 2005.  As a result of the rape conviction, he must register as a sex offender in Virginia and Texas (where he moved in the interim).  In 2010, he filed a 2254 motion challenging his conviction, arguing that he was actually innocent.  The district court denied the motion for lack of jurisdiction because Wilson was no longer "in custody" as required under 2254.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit agreed and affirmed the dismissal.  Recognizing he was no longer in prison, Wilson argued that the variety of restrictions placed on him by Virginia and Texas law as a registered sex offender meant he as still "in custody" for purposes of 2254.  However, the court noted that the Supreme Court has defined "in custody" to mean custody "under conviction or sentence under attack at the time his petition is filed."  Although the concept of custody extends to a person released on parole, it does not include someone whose imposed sentence as "fully expired."  The sex offender provisions at issue in this case, however, were not part of his sentence for rape, but rather "collateral consequences of him having been convicted for rape."  Allowing 2254 challenges in such situations would allow sex offenders to challenge their convictions in federal court at any time.

Judge Davis concurred in the judgement, noting that when 2254 and its definition of "custody" was enacted, neither Congress nor the President had any conception of the type of lifelong sex offender requirements in place today.

Judge Wynn dissented, arguing that the majority's reading of the habeas provisions was too narrow, particularly in a case where Wilson makes such a compelling case for his innocence.  Specifically, he argues that Supreme Court precedent allowing for the challenge of prior convictions in habeas proceedings for a current conviction/sentence "strongly suggest that there are instances in which a fully served sentence may be collaterally challenged through a writ of habeas corpus."


Carolynn MacDonald said...

On 3/2/2012, the Virginia Supreme Court decided EC v. DJJ, and found that the Sex Offender Registration requirement amounts to custody. Has anyone compared and contrasted these two cases? If so, I'd like to read your thoughts. botgc1r at gmail

Jonathan Byrne said...

Thanks for the link, Carolynn.

Taking a quick look at E.C., it looks like the petitioner there was in custody when the case was filed, but was released from parole while it was pending. Looks like the Va. Supreme Court held that because there was jurisdiction when the petition was filed, the court still had jurisdiction even though petitioner was off parole. Whereas in Wilson, the petitioner was already done with his sentence when he filed the 2254 motion.

Carolynn MacDonald said...

But, (am I hope I'm thinking correctly) if Wilson was still under a suspended sentence - things would have been different? And if so, if more attorneys would ask for some amount of a suspended sentence at the sentencing phase, maybe more habeas filings could be sucessful. I just mourn so much for the lost time, and so much more due to procedural's no fair!

Carolynn MacDonald said...

I hope somebody will help Wilson go on up to SCOTUS. I will help if anyone needs a Paralegal.

Gloria Wolk said...

Carolynn, I, too hope this will go to SCOTUS. The old timers at the 4th cir. echoed the district court, which completely ignored the innocence of Wilson. Why should an innocent person have to live with this stigma, this brand, which definitely impairs his life, his ability to be gainfully employed, to care for his family?

I saw on PACER that his lawyer requested a rehearing en banc, and it was denied. So, I guess the next step is SCOTUS.

It may interest you to know the other innocent sailors in the Norfolk 4 who have yet to have their convictions overturned or dismissed are appealing and, in their cases, the federal judge is more in touch with the real world and more sensitive to justice. That upset the corrupt folks who are behind these false confessions and wrongful convictions. They appealed to SCOTUS.

Possibly the cases will be joined with the appeal of Floyd Perkins, another man who claims innocence but his is not as clear-cut as Wilson, Williams, and Dick.

Gloria Wolk said...

Jonathan, how is it logical to conclude Wilson was done with his sentence when he could be returned to prison, as if he were on parole, for not registering as a sex offender any time he moves or takes a vacation, as well as annually; and he must carry the offender card on his person at all times or suffer legal punishment?

It makes sense that this is for the safety of the public, when someone was guilty, but not in this case. This is a bizarre situation for an innocent person.