Monday, April 15, 2013

"Equity Will Not Suffer a Wrong to be Without a Remedy"

John Marshall, the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court based the decision of Marbury v. Madison - the foundation for the power of judicial review - on the premise that a just society must provide a remedy for every legal wrong. That makes the plight of Eric Wilson that much more tragic. Wilson was one of four sailors termed the Norfolk 4 who were suspects in a 1997 rape and murder.  The four confessed after coercive questioning by the investigating detective who, as reported by the NY Times, has since been convicted of extortion and making false statements to the FBI in an unrelated case.  Despite the fact that their confessions were inconsistent and that the only DNA evidence found at the scene matched none of the accused, three of the sailors were convicted of rape and murder and Wilson was convicted of rape. The three convicted of murder were sentenced to life in prison.  Wilson, sentenced to seven years, served his time and was released.

The DNA eventually led to a confession by the man who matched the evidence.  The 4 sailors were never involved.  In 2009, the governor conditionally pardoned the 3 sailors still serving jail time.  But Wilson,who was already out of jail, was not pardoned. Due to his conviction, he must remain registered as a sex offender. According to the Times:

But it takes time to tick off all the ways in which the effects of his conviction will linger for the rest of his life. There is the stigma, of course. He must report to the police in person every year, keep them posted about changes in his life and check in with local authorities if he travels.
Then there are the blows that really sting. He is not eligible for jobs on many government sites. He wanted to go to Niagara Falls for his honeymoon but could not get a passport to cross to the Canadian side. He cannot adopt his young stepson.
Not just that. “I’m not allowed to go to school functions for my son,” he said.
Seeking exoneration, Wilson filed a habeas corpus petition.  But because he is neither incarcerated nor on probation or parole, his petition was denied. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed noting:
The sex offender registration requirements and related consequences do not impose sufficiently substantial restraints on Wilson’s liberty so as to justify a finding that he is in the custody of state officials.
In dissent, Judge James A. Wynn Jr., wrote that he was “deeply troubled that our legal system would be construed to prevent a person with compelling evidence of his actual innocence and wrongful conviction from accessing a forum in which to clear his name.”
“This court has the authority — indeed, the moral imperative — to grant Wilson the hearing that he seeks,” Judge Wynn wrote.
And so Wilson goes on, wronged by a system purporting to serve justice, but unable to find it with both hands.
Click the image below to view a part of the PBS documentary "The Confessions" that feature the Norfolk 4:
Click the image below to see the full PBS documentary:

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