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Trial Judge v. Virginia Supreme Court

Tom Jackman of the Washington Post has this story on Chief General District Court Judge Dean S. Worcester of Loudoun County, Virginia, whose decisions to reopen the cases of five immigrants directly contradict a recent ruling by the state's high court.

Last month, the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously held in Commonwealth v. Morris that the state's writ of error coram vobis does not provide a vehicle for undoing a plea bargain based on defense counsel's failure to inform about possible immigration consequences.  "While ineffective assistance of counsel may render a judgment voidable upon the necessary showing, it does not render the trial court incapable of rendering judgment," as required for a successful writ of coram vobis. 

Nevertheless, Judge Worcester, in a recent case with facts paralleling those in Morris, found just the opposite:

[T]his Court finds that the [Morris opinion] is at odds with longstanding precedent and jurisprudence, is an infringement on the legislative power to amend, restrict or limit the common law, and creates confusion.
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If this Court were to abide by the [Morris ruling], a constitutional violation will stand uncorrected, as the remedy of habeas corpus is not available to the Defendant in this case. . . the Court will not allow this to happen.
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Had the Defendant been properly advised, he would not have entered into the plea agreement and this Court would have been prevented from entering this conviction.  This meets the elements necessary for relief under the general common law petition for Writ of Error Coram Vobis recognized in the Commonwealth of Virginia since its creation.

Judge Worcester's decision was met with shock from both defense counsel and prosecutor James E. Plowman, who is still deciding on his next step.

Thanks to How Appealing for the story and link.

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