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Felons: Guilty When Proven Innocent?
Should first time offenders be treated the same as repeat offenders?
In September of 2004, a nineteen year old living in DFW was sitting in the grass in front of a house. He was homeless at the time, and was going to stay with a few other gentlemen so he was not sleeping under a stairwell again. The other guys decided they wanted to break into a home, and when the guy stated he would not break in with them, he waited in the grass on the front lawn.
Unbeknownst to him, this house had been invaded by the same group the night before, and when the police were called, they stated he was their lookout. He was put on probation, but due to being homeless was unable to pay his fines, or have an address for his mailings or meet his probation officer. Deciding it was better to at least attempt to get his life on track, he chose to leave the state of Texas and pursue a door to door sales job traveling around the United States. It wasn't until he had a small accident that he was arrested for jumping probation.
The courts decided to make an example of him, even though this was his first and only offense, and put him in prison. After nine months, his state appointed defender (who did not even give this man a chance to go to court) offered a plea deal: Get out at 9 months, and keep the felony on record and be on parole for one year, or, stay in for possibly over a year before he could even go to court. There may have been a chance this could've been lowered to a misdemeanor, but that was not a guarantee.
Locked Up - Akon
The gentleman chose to take the deal, and he got out. After ten years he has a wife of almost six years, a two year old daughter, and yet problems still arise. He cannot work most jobs due to the felony being "Burglary of a Habitation". No offices will hire him, most money handling positions won't hire him, and those that do are minimum-wage positions that are not enough to help with living costs. He has not been able to legally get on a lease with his wife, and the idea of getting a house is not even a possibility as he cannot find decent paying work, so house payments are too high, plus a felony can impact the possibility of a good home.
This situation could have been avoided if A) This gentleman had not stayed on the lawn that night but instead left, B) He had chosen to not leave the state and continue to look for work within, and C) He had stayed in the prison system for the allotted time until he could go to court. But let's break these options down:
Option A: Being homeless, you will always want to chose a warm, dry place to sleep inside a home. Rather than leave and be under another stairwell, he chose to wait thinking as long as he was not in the home and not doing anything he would not get in trouble. More than likely had the others not claimed he was their "lookout", he probably would've been told to move along.
Option B: The state of Texas has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, and has had that rate for several years. It is very difficult to find work, let alone finding it while homeless and being able to properly keep yourself groomed and maintained to work until you get a check. His choice to get a job and take care of himself obviously was the best choice.
Option C: Once inside jail, there is not a person in the world that wants to stay. Seeing as he was inside for a crime he didn't even commit, he wanted out. He had no idea the amount of problems that would build once out, but he didn't want to stay in. He also met his wife a few months after, and since then built himself a family and is happy with that.
Another problem that has continued to follow him is that he has an active warrant still from that night. He was under the impression while he was incarcerated that all charges from that night he was serving time for. But it turns out that wasn't the case. The cost to get a warrant from 2004 paid off? $520. Who has $520 to spend these days? Every time he feels he can start to pay it down, something comes up like needing diapers for his daughter, or food in the house and it's impossible to get that money there. He has to worry about walking down the street by himself, or if they were to get pulled over in the car. People have pointed out he shouldn't have this warrant at all, but the city that it is in is desperate for money so they will not permit him to fight to get it removed. Far as they are concerned if it wasn't removed after he got out of prison, then he is just stuck with it and needs to either pay for it or go back to jail for three days. Who is going to go back to jail? After spending so much time in jail and prison you feel you've already served your time. Especially for a crime you didn't even commit, why would you go back at all? This is the awful system at work.
But should he be treated like repeat offenders, and not given an opportunity to better his life financially? With no priors, and nothing since, should he be given the same consequences as someone who has repeatedly stolen property, used drugs, or even sexually harmed people? Seeing as he wasn't even committing the crime, should he have even been charged?
Why do those like this gentleman who is now 30, spend their adult lives trying to make up for a mistake of trusting others, when others go unpunished for murder, drugs, rape, and other horrible crimes that should be caught? Why hurt a man that wanted nothing more than a sofa or a carpeted floor to sleep on for the night?
It is clear that the justice system is severely broken, and now we have a perfect example as to how. Perhaps the justice system should spend less time going after those with no record except for one minor incident, than those with several offenses.