By Jennifer Gardner
There is nothing more professionally fulfilling than winning a case for a client – especially where the stakes are so high, as they were for our client last week. He was over-charged with felony child endangerment, and the Compton DA essentially failed to realistically assess the circumstances surrounding the case, refused to make a reasonable settlement offer of a plea, and forced our client to go to trial. That’s what’s known as a “free trial.” In other words, our client had no choice but to go to trial. And, given the facts of the case, it was clear that if he wanted to win, he would have to testify.
More than our client’s freedom was at stake in this trial: the future of an entire family was at stake. Our client has been in this country for the last 37 of his 38 years, and he is a permanent resident. These days, whenever any non-US citizen is convicted of any type of crime involving abuse or harm or even risk of harm to a child, they face deportation straight from prison and/or jail. The same is true if they are convicted of a misdemeanor involving the same allegations (although some immigration attorneys will tell you that at least under that scenario, they have a “fighting chance”). Our client has raised his 17-year-old daughter here, his whole family is here, and his fiancée is 7 months pregnant with their baby. If we lost this case, he would be “outta here” in no time, after doing his time. The emotional ramifications of a potential loss were palpable, and they set heavily on my shoulders during the last few months.
What made this even worse was the fact that our client was the victim of someone else’s mistake of judgment. He was, as many of our clients are, the unwitting victim of a third party’s misdeed. He did not actively do or intend to do anything wrong, nor did he fail to act any differently than an ordinary reasonable person under the circumstances.
The trouble began when he parked his car in a parking lot, under the shade of a tree, and left his keys, and his fiancée and her 2-year-old in the car, in order to run inside the store to buy a “bionico.” What’s a bionico? A fresh fruity dish with yogurt, raisins, coconut. It’s delicious. The problem occurred when his fiancée left the car for a few minutes with her child inside in order to join him in the store to change her order because her cell phone had died. Even though the couple immediately returned to the car, within minutes – police swarmed the vehicle. The child was not injured at all, but my client was arrested and charged as if he had masterminded the crime of the century.
Our guy had to tell his side of the story. We had to place our faith and trust in the judgment of 12 jurors – total strangers who we hoped would plainly see the situation here for what it was, and our client for who he is – a loving, caring father and boyfriend who tried to do something nice when things went very wrong. Lo and behold, they did. The jury acquitted him on both counts after deliberating for about half an hour. Victory is sweet, especially for our client and his family. I slept very well this weekend, my faith in people restored, at least for the time being.