Letter: How many times can one be a ‘first offender’?
Editor, Gazette Journal:
I sometimes read the letters to the editor; however, I have never felt compelled to write until today. I wanted to share my disheartening experience with the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office of Gloucester.
A 13-year-old boy and his friend stole my wife’s phone and I found them later hiding nearby reprogramming it. I confronted the young man and he initially denied taking the phone then became very confrontational with me. Long story short, the deputies arrived and released him to his grandparents.
About a month ago, I received a call from Laura at the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office advising me that we would be testifying in court. She asked me what I would like to see happen with the case and I told her that I felt the young man had some issues that needed to be addressed by the court. I advised her that his grandfather told me that he had also been in trouble in school for taking someone’s cell phone. I felt it was very important that he go to trial in hopes that he will change his course in life. Laura agreed.
An hour before court we were told we weren’t needed. Laura gave me what I have learned is a typical Commonwealth Attorney’s Office answer. Since he is a first-time offender, the judge "would not have" found him guilty of felony larceny and "would have" postponed findings for 12 months and given him 50 hours of community service. Since they already knew what the judge was going to do, they decided to make a deal. I asked if he would go in front of the judge and she said that he would go before the judge and enter a guilty plea and receive the order to perform community service (sounds like a plea bargain). I emphasized that this young man needed some help before he gets into real trouble and that the reason he is being considered a "first offender" is because nothing was done before and explained that next time will make him a third-time first offender. I asked her who made the decision, she explained that she was the prosecutor and it was "totally my decision."
How many times can someone be a first offender? I didn’t want to see this young man found guilty of a felony, but he definitely needs help before he does something that can’t be brushed off as easily. If we don’t hold him accountable for his actions now then why would he feel that he needs to change? The Commonwealth Attorney’s Office is not the judge and should not be assuming what the judge would or would not do. I was of the belief that the judge was the one that determines a case and the Commonwealth Attorney’s job was to prosecute. Maybe not …