On April 1, a Clark County District Court jury found one of our clients not-guilty of theft in the third degree.
As with any case that makes it all the way to trial, there was a lot of behind-the-scenes work the jury would never even hear about. Prior to trial, a drug possession charge was dismissed once an assistant Vancouver city attorney was provided with certified medical documents proving our client had a prescription for the drugs that police found in her purse when she was arrested for theft. The client did plead guilty to a charge of bail jump the morning of trial, before the jury was selected, because she had skipped an earlier mandatory court appearance.
So that left the charge of third-degree theft – the “third degree” refers to the value of the items. In Washington, third-degree theft is for items with a total value below $750. It is a gross misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Our client adamantly denied stealing an iPad cover and a sweatshirt from a Wal-Mart. She said she had the money to pay for the items. The six-person jury agreed the assistant city attorney failed to prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Two things hurt the city’s case, and neither of them could have been predicted by attorneys. First, the Vancouver police officer who responded to the theft at Wal-Mart failed to show up and testify. Second, the Wal-Mart loss prevention officer failed to preserve the evidence – security video purporting to show our client deliberately attempting to conceal the items – and while attorneys knew ahead of trial the video hadn’t been saved, the security officer didn’t hold up well under cross-examination by our attorney, Roger Priest. (That’s a nice way of saying the witness came across as a jerk.)
Had the police officer shown up or if the video had been saved, the outcome may have been different. But the way the case played out reinforces that trials are predictably unpredictable.