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Three attorneys, two hung juries and -- finally -- one dismissal

A Clark County deputy prosecutor who was told by two different juries his case wasn’t strong enough to warrant a conviction finally dismissed a felony theft charge this month against our client, but only after his supervisor was notified of the flaws in his case.

Our client, a home health aide with no criminal history, was accused in March 2021 of stealing $6,750 from an elderly client. She was charged with one count of theft from a vulnerable adult in the first degree, a class B felony. She has been unable to work while the case was pending.

The case went to trial twice in Clark County Superior Court. Attorney Katie Kauffman and Marina Spencer handled the first trial, in September 2021. Spencer and attorney Owen Sutanto handled the second trial, which was in May.

Each trial lasted one week and was declared a mistrial after the juries failed to reach an unanimous decision.

The deputy prosecutor was preparing to take the case to trial a third time, but Spencer sent a lengthy email to one of the deputy prosecutor’s supervisors, detailing the negative feedback provided from jurors.

The first problem was the deputy prosecutor couldn’t even prove a crime had been committed.

The alleged victim, who is in his 80s, lives on the same property, in a different residence, as a woman described by extended family members as his partner of 40 years (though they never married) and a man 20 years younger than him who controls his finances. (Oddly, the woman denied she ever had a romantic relationship with the alleged victim, and at least one juror wondered if she and the man she lives with were to blame for the missing money.)

When the theft was first reported to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, the man who controls the alleged victim’s finances said he wasn’t 100 percent sure the money had been stolen but the alleged victim, who has memory problems, said he didn’t remember getting the cash from 11 checks he had signed. The man told a deputy sheriff he felt obligated to report the money as missing.

Jurors said they had trouble with the fact there was zero evidence that our client, who admitted to cashing the checks for the client after he asked, took the money. There weren’t any bank statements showing our client made deposits around the time the checks were cashed. There wasn’t a witness who saw our client with the money or who someone who could point to where the money went.

Another problem jurors had was with the way the sheriff’s deputy handled the investigation. He zeroed in our client because she cashed the checks for the alleged victim, but the alleged victim has round-the-clock care and a number of aides who would have had access to his cash, which he kept in a drawer. Jurors also wondered why the deputy didn’t do a thorough search of the alleged victim’s apartment to determine if the money had simply been misplaced.

A third issue for some jurors was the potential for punishment. While jurors are instructed by the judge not to consider punishment when deciding on guilt – except as far as it causes them to take the matter seriously – some said they didn’t want to send a single mother of four children to prison without real proof.

In her email to the deputy prosecutor’s supervisor, Spencer questioned why the county was spending so many resources on a non-violent, class B felony against someone with no criminal history.

Prior to the client’s next court hearing, the deputy prosecutor emailed Spencer to say he was dismissing the case.

Tags: criminal law, theft, dismissal, Katie Kauffman , Marina Spencer, Owen Sutanto

Jeffrey D. Barrar, P.S.: Vancouver Defenders Jeffrey D. Barrar, P.S.
Vancouver Defenders