Why Innocence Won’t Keep You Off Sex Offender List


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.

Take a look at what this family has had to go through because of this:

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.

Comments

  1. says

    Those lists can create a lot of collateral damage. A man with my relatively uncommon name is on the sex offender list in my state. He’s even close to my age. Fortunately, no one has confused the two of us yet. Of course, it helps that I haven’t been job hunting in the years since my doppelganger got listed. I wish, however, that he lived farther away — instead of within a few miles of me. It makes me paranoid.

  2. eric says

    It constantly baffles me that anyone in the justice system fights efforts to clear people known to be innocent. Whether you are pro-list or con-list, every rational person should agree that if you’re going to have one, reducing the false positives and negatives should be a goal. The list will serve its putative function well only to the extent that its accurate.

  3. raven says

    One guy around here is required every year to notify the court and his “victim” of his whereabouts.

    It’s real easy to notify his victim. She is his roommate so he just hands her the papers.

    This woman is also now his wife and they have two kids. It was some sort of stat rape thing that has been used to hang him forever.

  4. Aquaria says

    That’s just sad. They don’t listen to rape victims when a rape has happened, or to those who are falsely accused.

    Our system is FUBAR.

  5. d cwilson says

    @eric:

    I suspect there is a lot of CYA going on here. They’re probably worried about being held accountable if Edgar were to commit a crime and it comes out that his name was taken off the list.

  6. says

    “I suspect there is a lot of CYA going on here. They’re probably worried about being held accountable if Edgar were to commit a crime and it comes out that his name was taken off the list.”

    But what on earth is there to indicate that he would later commit a crime? Especially of a sexual nature? If 15 and 14 year olds who have sex was an indicator for criminal behavior, alot more folks would be in jail

  7. eric says

    d cwilson: I’m more cynical than that: I suspect prosecutors want to keep as many cases in the “win” column as possible because its good for their careers (similarly for judges: they don’t want to have a record of deciding cases wrongly). It also salves both prosecution and judge consciences to believe every person they put away is truly guilty.

    So, basically, what we’ve got here is a double whammy of material self-interest and psychological need working together to prevent the admission or correction of a mistake.

  8. d cwilson says

    But what on earth is there to indicate that he would later commit a crime? Especially of a sexual nature? If 15 and 14 year olds who have sex was an indicator for criminal behavior, alot more folks would be in jail

    I didn’t say it was a rational concern.

  9. says

    raven-

    I know of a case here in Michigan where a guy was convicted of statutory rape. He married the “victim” and they now have children, but he cannot go to the school even for parent-teacher conferences because he’s on the sex offender list. It’s nuts. Thankfully, Michigan actually passed a new law reforming the list and no longer putting people in Romeo and Juliet relationships on the list. It also allows those already on the list to petition a judge to have their name removed on that basis. It was actually good legislation passed in a bipartisan manner without much fuss. I was astonished.

  10. Stevarious says

    But what on earth is there to indicate that he would later commit a crime?

    This is my personal hobby horse of late. Certain mindsets (religious mindsets) seem to have a huge problem distinguishing between facts and symbols, and combined with a pervasive belief that ‘everything happens for a reason’ leads them to make HUGE errors of judgement.
    For this mindset, the sex offender list is a symbol. Specifically, a symbol of criminal sexual perversion. No just god would allow an innocent person to be placed on a list like that, so the fact that he is on the registry means that he must be a sex criminal – regardless of whether he has, in fact, ever committed a crime. It’s so easy to go from ‘everything happens for a reason’ to ‘he was put on the sex offender registry for a reason – we may not know that reason, but if he was REALLY innocent, he would never have been put on the registry!’
    You see the same thing when prosecutors try to block innocent prisoners from getting exonerated. ‘He must be guilty of something, or he wouldn’t be in prison!’

    When you believe that an all-powerful invisible being is actively working in the world to prevent injustice and suffering for innocent people, it’s very easy to convince yourself that the people who demonstrably receive injustice and suffering must somehow deserve it.

  11. slc1 says

    There is also the double standard where women miscreants are treated differently then male miscreants. Case in point, the current brouhaha in California over a charge by one Mariah Yeater that she had a sexual encounter with pop singer Justin Bieber which resulted in her getting pregnant. At the time, Ms. Yeater was 19, Mr. Bieber was 16. Under California law, this is misdemeanor statutory rape on the part of Ms. Yeater. For anyone who thinks that, in the very unlikely event that her claims are true, she will be charged with statutory rape and placed on a sex offenders list, I have a nice bridge less then 3 years old over the Potomac south of DC I would be willing to sell them. On the other hand, a 19 year old male having sex with a 16 year old girl would have the book thrown at him, just like the case cited by Mr. Brayton.

  12. says

    A few years ago, I checked the sex offender list for my town as it happened to be online.

    The number of people on the list was surpising. It was immediately clear – either I live in a very dangerous neighborhood that is infested with sexual predators, or the lists are meaningless and people get on them for totally trivial reasons. And it was pretty clear that the second of those was the credible conclusion.

    Perhaps it is time for these lists to be abolished.

  13. lofgren says

    Often the argument from prosecutors in these cases is that if they change their tune once, it somehow opens the floodgates and every rapist in the state will say that they are also innocent. Because I guess it’s pretty common for victims to recant two months after their rapist is convicted or something.

  14. Irreverend Bastard says

    The “Land of the Free” where just about everybody’s a criminal.

    Average age of first sexual intercourse: 16.9 years.
    Children from low-income families: 12.8 years.

    The authors found that 16.2% of people in the United States had used cocaine in their lifetime …

    Cannabis use was highest in the US (42.4%) …

    No wonder the US leads the world in imprisonment.

    A U.S. Justice Department report released on November 30, 2006 showed that a record 7 million people — or one in every 32 American adults — were behind bars, on probation or on parole at the end of last year. Of the total, 2.2 million were in prison or jail.

    Seriously, WTF?

  15. Chris from Europe says

    It would be nice to get rid off this kind of public lists. Of course, there’s no chance …

  16. ginger says

    Thank you anandine that information can literally change our lives:) My children’s Father was wrongfully convicted (With a coerced Plea bargain which threatened that he did not have a chance in hell to fight it due to him being black and unless he wanted to go to prison for a long time he had to plead guilty!) His children and I suffer alot in the State of Nevada. the information the girl gave the police was never substantiated and in fact another girl came forward to say she was asked to be apart of accusing him but decided she did not want to do that to him. But the other girl did it to avenge her bitter scorned Mother because he did not want to be with her anymore. He has been through HELL! and so have I because I look like the ignorant bitch who is willing to stay with a sex offender. My children are treated differently at school because the schools are notified if a children’s parent is a Sex Offender. That is just the tip of the ice burg of hell we have survived. People use it against us at the drop of the hat if you ever piss them off. the Dean of my child’s school actually took the information he received from the school and he goes to our church so he felt responsible to tell the church he was a sex-offender even after we had been there 2 years with no issues until the Dean put 2 and 2 together. He fought for one of his children when he caught some kids beating up his child he told them never to put there hands on them unless they want their asses kicked. They told the police he threatened their life. My son who was beat up was treated like crap even though he went to the hospital. Only one kid was cited the next day. His Dad went to jail immediately. The good part is today the school District sent me a letter saying the school police informed them that he plead guilty to harassing the children so they need to protect the children by putting a “No Trespass” order on him. The letter was dated 4-5-2012. His TRIAL is not until the 16th of April. He never plead anything-they already convicted him before he had his day in court and they put it in writing on their letterhead. I would attach a copy of it on here but I don’t see a way to upload the attachment. They are so bold to put it in writing because they do not think anyone will care since he is after all a “Sex Offender” He and his family are not actually human beings in their mind. The worst part of my story is that my children were actually molested by a creep WHITE guy who is also wealthy and the police will not arrest him because they do not want to violate his rights based on just my children’s word against his. Unfortunately both my children’s Father and I were not there for our babies for a short period of time and that is when creepy dude had an opportunity to do what he did. He roams free and enjoys life to molest freely while we suffer as the oppressed with our ugly scarlet letter! Our country is not okay when it comes to these twisted laws. I am tired. There was no hope in sight until I read anandine’s response, so thank you!

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