E.C. v. Virginia Dep't of Juvenile Justice, Record No. 110523.

Decision Date02 March 2012
Docket NumberRecord No. 110523.
Citation283 Va. 522,722 S.E.2d 827
PartiesE.C. v. VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE.
CourtVirginia Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Matthew L. Engle (Deirde M. Enright; Andrew K. Block; Angela A. Ciolfi; Jeremy S. Byrum; McGuireWoods, on briefs), for appellant.

Gregory W. Franklin, Assistant Attorney General (Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, II, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

National Juvenile Defender Center, Mid–Atlantic Juvenile Defender Center, Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, Families & Allies of Virginia's Youth, Mental Disabilities Clinic, Parents Engaged for Learning Equality, Voices for Virginia's Children, Kristin Henning, Julie McConnell, Wallace J. Mlyniec, and Adrienne E. Volenik (Nadia Natasha Seeratan; Adrienne E. Volenik, on brief), amici curiae in support of appellant.

Present: KINSER, C.J., LEMONS, GOODWYN, MILLETTE, and McCLANAHAN, JJ., and CARRICO and LACY, S.JJ.

OPINION BY Senior Justice ELIZABETH B. LACY.

E.C. was released from custody while his petition for a writ of habeas corpus was pending. In this appeal we consider whether the circuit court erred in holding that because the petitioner was no longer in custody, its jurisdiction ended or, alternatively, the case was rendered moot.

BACKGROUND

In June 2007, E.C., then 15 years old, was charged in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court of Stafford County (JDR Court) with the rape of a 14 year-old girl, E.G., in violation of Code § 18.2–61. E.C. also was charged with breaking and entering in the daytime with intent to commit rape, in violation of Code § 18.2–90, and abduction, in violation of Code § 18.2–47. Upon advice of counsel, E.C. entered an agreement with the Commonwealth in which he entered a plea of facts sufficient for a finding of guilty to the charges of breaking and entering and rape and the Commonwealth agreed to nolle prosse the abduction charge and forego seeking prosecution of E.C. as an adult. The JDR Court adjudged E.C. delinquent and committed him to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) for an indeterminate period.1 The Court also ordered E.C. to register as a sex offender. On February 25, 2009, E.C. was released from the custody of the DJJ and placed under parole supervision managed by the 16th District Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Service Unit of the City of Orange.

On August 18, 2009, a consortium of attorneys from various entities 2 filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on E.C.'s behalf alleging that E.C.'s guilty plea was neither knowing nor voluntary and was constitutionally invalid for a number of reasons generally relating to the ineffective assistance of counsel. E.C. also asserted that he was actually innocent of the crimes, alleging that on or about November 23, 2007, E.G. recanted her complaint against E.C. and admitted that she had lied about the incident with E.C. and that the encounter had been consensual” and that on November 28, 2007, E.G.'s mother informed E.C.'s court-appointed counsel of this recantation. E.C. alleged that his court-appointed counsel filed a motion to set aside the verdict on February 28, 2008, but the JDR Court denied the motion as untimely.

Prior to filing E.C.'s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, a member of E.C.'s legal team contacted the director of court services for the 16th District Court Service Unit, and requested that E.C.'s release from parole be delayed to allow E.C.'s counsel “the opportunity to file a document related to the matters on which they were representing him.” The director agreed to delay E.C.'s release for “a brief period of time.” E.C. was released from parole supervision on August 24, 2009, six days after his habeas corpus petition was filed.

On November 3, 2009, the DJJ moved to dismiss E.C.'s petition for a writ of habeas corpus arguing, inter alia, that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to consider the petition because E.C. was no longer under any form of detention. Following oral arguments on the motion, the circuit court granted the DJJ's motion to dismiss finding that, in the absence of detention, it had no jurisdiction to consider a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The circuit court also concluded that “the requirement for sex offender registration [is] not the functional equivalent of detention, confinement, or custody, or the contigent [sic] exposure to confinement inherent in parole or a suspended sentence.” Alternatively, the circuit court held that even if it had jurisdiction, the petition was moot because E.C. was “under no form of confinement or detention” and, therefore, the Court has no capacity to grant the relief contemplated by the statute.”

E.C. filed a timely appeal challenging these three rulings of the circuit court.

DISCUSSION

I. JURISDICTION

In his first assignment of error, E.C. asserts that a circuit court's jurisdiction to consider a petition for a writ of habeas corpus is established at the time the petition is filed and because E.C. was under parole supervision at the time his petition was filed, the circuit court had jurisdiction to consider the petition. The DJJ does not dispute that the circuit court had the requisite jurisdiction to consider the case at the time the petition was filed, but contends that the circuit court's jurisdiction was extinguished or ended when E.C. was released from parole supervision because, at that point, the court could no longer enter an order that would impact the duration of E.C.'s confinement.

To consider the habeas corpus petition in this case, the circuit court had to have subject matter or “potential” jurisdiction as well as “active” jurisdiction. Ghameshlouy v. Commonwealth, 279 Va. 379, 388–89, 689 S.E.2d 698, 702–03 (2010). Our jurisprudence has long held that a court's jurisdiction is determined at the time the litigation is filed and, once established, remains until the termination of the litigation. As we stated in Laing v. Commonwealth, 205 Va. 511, 514, 137 S.E.2d 896, 899 (1964):

[I]t is axiomatic that when a court acquires jurisdiction of the subject matter and the person, it retains jurisdiction until the matter before it has been fully adjudicated.

See also Jones v. Commonwealth, 227 Va. 425, 429, 317 S.E.2d 482, 484 (1984) (court acquired and retained jurisdiction until matter fully adjudicated); Rochelle v. Rochelle, 225 Va. 387, 391, 302 S.E.2d 59, 62 (1983) (same); 20 Am.Jur.2d, Courts §§ 98, 100, 101 (2011) (citing cases). While intervening events may affect the nature of the relief available, they do not end or extinguish the jurisdiction of the Court.

The DJJ argues that a habeas corpus proceeding is not subject to this “axiomatic” principle relying primarily on language in the per curiam opinion issued in Blair v. Peyton, 210 Va. 416, 171 S.E.2d 690 (1970). Closer review of the record and history of Blair demonstrates that it is not dispositive of the issue in this case and has little, if any, precedential value.

The petitioner in Blair filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging two convictions he had received from the Corporation Court of the City of Norfolk. At the time he filed his petition, the petitioner had already completed the sentences imposed as a result of those convictions. He was, however, serving sentences imposed for convictions against him entered by the Circuit Court of Culpeper County. The relief sought was a credit for the time served on the alleged invalid Norfolk convictions against the time he had to serve for the Culpeper convictions.

The respondent filed a motion to dismiss the habeas corpus petition arguing that the corporation court had no jurisdiction because the petitioner had already served the sentences imposed for the Norfolk convictions. The corporation court granted the motion to dismiss and the petitioner appealed.

In an unpublished order, this Court reversed the corporation court's judgment and remanded the case for a plenary hearing citing Peyton v. Christian, 208 Va. 105, 155 S.E.2d 335 (1967). Blair v. Peyton, Record No. 7046 (October 10, 1967).

On remand, the respondent again urged dismissal of the petition on jurisdictional grounds and that Christian was not applicable to the jurisdictional issue in the case. The record indicates that the corporation court concluded that the mandate from this Court required it to conduct a plenary hearing. Following that hearing, the corporation court dismissed the petition on its merits and the petitioner again appealed to this Court.

In the second appeal to this Court, the respondent again argued that the corporation court was without jurisdiction because the petitioner had already fully served the challenged sentences at the time the petition was filed, citing Smyth v. Midgett, 199 Va. 727, 101 S.E.2d 575 (1958) and Smyth v. Holland, 199 Va. 92, 97 S.E.2d 745 (1957). This Court dismissed the appeal, however, stating that because the petitioner had completed his sentences for the Culpeper convictions prior to the appeal being heard in the Supreme Court, any opinion rendered would be an advisory opinion and the Court “therefore [was] without jurisdiction further to entertain the case.” Blair, 210 Va. at 417, 171 S.E.2d at 691. No citation to legal authority supporting this conclusion was provided.

The Court did not address the jurisdictional question raised by the respondent in both appeals; yet, eight months later, in Moore v. Peyton, 211 Va. 119, 119–20, 176 S.E.2d 427, 427 (1970), the Court reaffirmed the principle that a court does not acquire jurisdiction to determine the validity of a sentence fully served before the proceeding for a writ of habeas corpus is instituted. The Court also stated that Christian was not applicable to such cases. Moore, 211 Va. at 120, 176 S.E.2d at 428. The Court did not refer to its previous decision in Blair.

The DJJ relies on the language in the Blair per curiam opinion that the Court was “without jurisdiction further to entertain the case to...

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