Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Winning Isn't Everything, But . . .

I had a case where my 16-year-old client was charged with residential burglary. The alleged victim was his mother. My client had been kicked out of his mom's house. He had been kicked out of his dad's house. So, my client went from place to place on the goodwill of others. Then, when his mother and stepfather were on a vacation, he "broke" in to their home, and lived there for two days. He didn't steal anything. He didn't damage any property. He just lived there. In his mother's house. For two days. And for this, he was charged with residential burglary, a Class B felony. At his initial detention hearing, his parents went on and on about how concerned they were for his safety, and how he had to be held in detention for his own safety. They were so concerned for his safety, apparently, that they kicked him out on the street and left him to go from house to house for his food and shelter! At the time, the judge bought it, and kept him locked up in detention even though he had no prior criminal history, and his sole crime was having broken into his own house! A few days later, I brought the case back before the same judge for a review of that decision. Even though I informed his parents about the hearing, neither one bothered to show up. This time, the judge saw things my way, and released him to his father's home.

So, it's now a few weeks later. The kid is doing great at his dad's home. He has taken and passed all his GED tests. He is working full-time with his older brother. Today, we had a hearing on my motion to dismiss his case. Washington has a provision that allows the defendant/respondent to make a motion to dismiss a case if the evidence as stated in the police reports and supplements filed in the case, viewed in the light most favorable to the state, does not make out a prima facie case. As it turns out, there is good case law in Washington on the issue of juveniles being charged with burglarizing the family home. The case law recognizes that parents have a statutory duty to provide for the basic needs of their children, and therefore allows a conviction for burglary only if the child has been unequivocally made aware that he is not permitted in the home and the parent or parents have provided for the child's needs (e.g., by arranging for them to stay with someone else or by taking them to social services for placement). In this case, all the police report said was that my client had been kicked out of both parents' homes and had, since then, "been going from friend's house to friend's house." So, I filed my motion, and my brief, and argued the motion today. I knew things were going well when, after I finished my argument, the judge asked the prosecutor if there was any other case law superseding the Supreme Court opinion I had cited. (Of course there was not.) And then, the judge said he had never granted one of these motions before (which is amazing to me considering he's been sitting as a commissioner for about 20 years!), but he was granting this one.

You know how great it feels when you win? You know how much greater it feels when you believe so strongly that your winning was the absolutely right thing? You know how much greater it feels when, on top of that, your client beams at you, and hugs you, and thanks you for being the only person who was willing to fight for him? Well, I definitely know what that feels like today.

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