Cases & Deals

Jones Day lawyers successfully assisted a West African immigrant in vacating his conviction in Virginia state court for a crime he was legally incapable of committing

Clients Client A, West African native

Jones Day lawyers successfully assisted a West African immigrant in vacating his conviction in Virginia state court for a crime he was legally incapable of committing.

"A," a West African native, lost his mother at the age of eight. Because his father had deserted the family, A was raised by an aunt. When that aunt moved to Europe, 16-year-old A was left without a home or family. "B" lured A to the United States, promising him a home, an education, and help obtaining a visa that would allow him to remain in this country legally. After A arrived in the United States, B forced him into a period of involuntary servitude. Over the following 18 months, B ensured that A would continue to work for him by threatening to report A to immigration authorities if he attempted to leave B's home. After learning that A - now 17 years old - had entered into a relationship with B's 15-year-old daughter, B called the police and falsely reported that A had raped B's daughter. When the police arrived, A told them that he was only 17 years old, but B presented them with forged documents that suggested A was actually 21. Based in part on those forged documents, A was convicted of violating Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-371 (contributing to the delinquency of a minor) - a crime that requires the offender be over the age of 18. He was sentenced to jail and forced to undergo mandatory sex-offender treatment, all for a crime he could not have committed.

Jones Day was made aware of A's case by the MidAtlantic Innocence Project. After taking on the representation, Jones Day filed a petition for writ of error coram vobis on A's behalf in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court of Prince William County, Virginia. The writ of error coram vobis, an ancient common-law writ, affords the court in which an action was tried an opportunity to correct its record or reverse its judgment in light of a "clerical error or error in fact." Va. Code Ann. § 8.01-677. A's petition argued that the mistake as to his age constituted just such a critical "error in fact." With the assistance of A's immigration counsel at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, Jones Day included with the petition copies of A's birth certificate and passport, as well as the federal government's records of A's entry into the United States, all of which showed that A was only 17 years old at the time of the alleged offense. The Commonwealth of Virginia opposed the petition, arguing that the error as to A's age constituted neither a clerical error nor an "error in fact" that coram vobis was intended to remedy.

The Court granted A's petition over the Commonwealth's objection, finding that A was only 17 at the time of the purported offense, that the error as to his age constituted an "error in fact" within the meaning of Va. Code Ann. § 8.01-677, and that the writ of error coram vobis was the appropriate remedy to correct that error in fact. The Court entered an order vacating A's conviction and dismissing the charges against him on July 30, 2009.

Joseph Clark, Stephanie Connor, Christopher Farrell, Kristen Lejnieks, and Tara Stuckey, all of Jones Day's Washington office, represented A.

Client A v. Commonwealth of Virginia

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