04 February 2003

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Jury trial today. The 18 year old man was charged with felony knowingly and willfully causing an injury to a juvenile detention guard. This is a class 5 felony carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years.

The facts: Client, in a juvenile detention facility, threw a fit and was throwing a phone around. A guard went to grab client and had his hand hit by the phone; the hand had some swelling (this was the injury). The guard testified that he could not tell if client meant to hit him or not.

Both the judge and the prosecutor expressed the opinion that the felony was the same as a misdemeanor battery would be in the normal world. But an instruction for misdemeanor battery was required by caselaw and so it was included.

Thankfully, the jury saw the difference between "knowingly and willfully injuring" and an "unwanted touching." They were out for about 2 hours and came back with a finding of guilty on misdemeanor battery. Then the prosecutor showed them client's 14 priors (including malicious wounding, assault and battery of a police officer, and unlawful wounding). I tried everything I had but there was no overcoming that. The jury was out for maybe 5 minutes and they returned with the maximum penalty of 12 months and $2,500 fine. In reality this means that he should serve 6 months because in Virginia a client only serves half the time sentenced on a misdemeanor.

The guards at the Beaumont Juvenile Detention Facility should appreciate what the Commonwealth Attorney of Powhatan did for them. He is an elected official and could have ensured an easy conviction by making a low offer or charging a lesser offense (thereby making himself look better). A bright man, I'm sure he realized the case was close yet he still pushed forward prosecuting a charge less certain of conviction basically in representation of the interests of the guards.

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