In a recent opinion issued by a Circuit Court judge in Stafford County, Virginia, we see how the struggle for justice after a juvenile defendant was ineffectively represented by his lawyer can take years to obtain relief. The case of E.C. vs. Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, was an action for a Writ of Habeas Corpus brought on behalf of a teenager who was persuaded by his court appointed lawyer, to plead guilty to the crimes of burglary and rape. The problem - he was not guilty, and his lawyer had done virtually no independent investigation into the critical facts of the case. Even after the alleged victim recanted her accusations, it took almost seven years to clear the defendant of the criminal convictions and remove his name from the sex offender registry. All lawyers and judges who practice in the juvenile courts should read this opinion.
This case should serve as a reminder about the potential devastating consequences of poor legal representation in criminal cases. In juvenile cases, the standards for competent advocacy are more stringent that those for adults. This is in recognition that children are often more vulnerable to misunderstanding the judicial process or can be unduly influenced in their decision making.
Fortunately for E.C. and his family, justice ultimately prevailed. For juvenile justice advocates, there is a clear object lesson.