Is "The System" failing us?

By A Concerned Individual
Published on LatinoLA: January 25, 2012


Today, I read an article about a fifty-five year old Mom who was arrested for petty theft, as her husband waited outside the store. Two other similarly situated women were arrested and one is presumed to have been sent to Honduras. That is unknown and not verified.

I have heard from friends in courthouses that people, whether their cases are filed, adjudicated or dismissed, are being deported. Just like that. Just like the female officer said to the Mom. Civil rights attorneys are aware of this and are compiling lists. Contact the office of attorney Samuel Paz. He is one of them.

First of all, there are various ways this case can go. When a police officer is asked to arrest someone for a misdemeanor (a crime punishable in county jail), not committed in their presence, the store employee actually writes out a form, an internal form for the store, along with a report, and a form generated by the police giving them the instruction to arrest, based on what the store employee has seen. It is then that the police take custody of the individual.

As there were three women arrested, a big question is: Did the store employee or the police ascribe acts of one to the other? In other words, did they get them mixed up? Was the Mom questioned while in security's custody? Was she made to or did she fill out any forms, admitting any acts? Does she know if she was videotaped then, or audiotaped? Does she know if she was videotaped at the store, or audiotaped then? If so, get her attorney to get them asap. If pictures were taken of Mom, the security dude may not even remember what she looked like without looking at the pictures. Do not return to that store and give them another chance to look at her.

After an "arrest" is made, the case is documented by police report, which is obtainable quite quickly. There is generally a DR or URN number given in the paperwork which Mom may have been given. An investigating officer will be named to the case, which is then submitted for review to the city attorney's or district attorney's office. The supervisor there may and should be contacted re: the possible filing of this case. They have the authority to reject the case, or enter lesser charges. An attorney should approach the supervisor. Do not let Mom or any member of the family do so. However, a stop at the front desk of the police station will probably cause the report to be provided to the family. Ask nicely, and concerned. Do not cop an attitude. You may also ask if an Investigating Officer has been assigned, and ask to speak to him or her. Under no circumstances should any part of the incident be discussed by anyone with the Investigator. They will write a report, videotape you in the front area, or report it somehow.

The filing agency will decide if the case is worthy of prosecution. If this is aberrant behavior, i.e., Mom has never done anything like this before, the filing agency may decide to give her a break, especially given her age. So, the case may not even be filed.

If the case is filed, if will most probably be a PC484 violation. Petty theft. Look it up on Google. Some of the considerations may be: Did Mom have enough money or a credit card to pay for the items? Had she been carrying so much, she put them somewhere and forgot?

An element of petty theft is walking out of the store. Where exacly was Mom stopped? Inside or outside. If just inside the door, maybe she was just there, making a signal to Dad that she'd be right out. SHE HAS TO HAVE BEEN OUTSIDE. Otherwise, the store security jumped the gun & blew it.

Another issue here is: Mom's mental capacity. For example, if she has been taking medication which makes her confused, perhaps new medication & she is having a bad side effect? Menopause? Or has she been recently tested in a physical for early onset Alzheimer's? A letter from her doctor would help. Are Dad and Mom having financial or marital troubles that would cause Mom to be distracted? Because, she has to have the intent to commit the crime in order to prove she did commit the crime.

Also, given the information in the article, the cheese and the magazine do not amout to much. There is a Penal Code Section: 490.1: Which allows the filing agency to give the person a break if they have no prior record, the items are worth $50.00 or less, etc. It can be filed as an infraction--which carries a maximum penalty of $75.00.

Mom should not enter a plea, even a "no-contest" plea, to the misdemeanor. Because once she does that, she is open to be charged with a felony (punishable in state prison or county jail)--as a "petty theft with a prior", if this should happen again.

Mom should consult with an attorney--some courthouses have signs on the walls with a local Bar Association number where attorneys will charge less, depending on the income and financial ability to pay. The Public Defender's Office is generally excellent: The attorney assigned to the courtroom knows the Judge, the staff, the prosecutor, if the judge is grumpy or going on a vacation and you can get a better shot while he or she is gone. Or check with Legal Aid.

If Mom needs an interpreter, have the court appoint one for her. If she is hard of hearing, tell the court. She will not be charged for these services. The court may attempt to charge "penalties and assessments", which triple the fine. Have the attorney ask the judge to waive the fines. Do not let Mom receive "credit for time served", because those few hours in custody may make another case a felony.

You might want to go in to the courtroom assigned a few days before, so you can see the judge and the rest of the staff, particularly the prosecutor and defense attorneys at work. Do the cases seem to be fairly resolved? Is it a friendly atmosphere? You won't have to tell anyone who you are. Just say you are "court watchers."

If you have a good prosecutor who knows the ropes, Mom may get her 490.1, with fees waived and no time, no probation. Hope for that. Otherwise, take the case to trial. A jury trial. She has that Constitutional right. And if some prosecutor says the offer is going up because of that request, the defense attorney should make a big stink about why she is being penalized further or more greatly for asking for what is Constitutionally hers.

Also, ask for the rap sheets on the person or persons in the store that claim to have seen Mom. Color photos, etc. And ask for an investigator to be appointed at court cost. And try to get as minimal a time for probation, if needed. It is within the court's discretion. Do not plead "just to get it over with." Se los ruego.

If you are comfortable with this: Can you enter an anonymous reply naming the police or sheriff's station she went to? And, also, what city this happened in? If you are comfortable, just enter as an anonymous reply. I'll be looking.

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