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I just applied for an apartment and got turned down, because of an entry into my records for charges that I pled guilty to, even though I was not guilty, because I was misled by a court appointed attorney, as well as the D. A. and the judge.

I was attracted to a young lady that went to my church, and so I asked her what home Bible Study she went to, in order to get to know her better. I found out that she was an anchor woman for the local news. I don’t have a TV, so I never saw her on the air.

I’m kind of shy, so I sent her a couple of emails to let her know that I liked her.  Apparently she sent me an email asking me to leave her alone, but it must have gone to my spam folder, as I did not get it.

One evening when I went to church, my pastor informed me that she had gotten a restraining order against me, saying that I had done something to scare her, and therefore, I also couldn’t come to church there anymore.

I made a few phone calls, and discovered that there was no such restraining order, so, since he had mentioned a detective, I went to the county sheriff detective’s office, and spoke to the detective involved.  He informed me that the young lady was charging me with stalking, which is a very serious offense.  I told him that I like her, and did not wish ANY harm to come to her.  I brought a few friends, and they had no idea what I could have done to scare her, except for the fact that I have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

I did not know it but he was about to drop the case, but one of my friends, an old lady that I was looking after, went to her station during working hours, to try to talk to her, and get her to drop the case. Unfortunately, I was the one that dropped her off at the station.  When I picked her up, the young lady’s boss told me that the detective wanted to see me.

When I went there, he was not happy, saying that he had told me to stay away from the station (not that easy, as it is in the middle of town. I was later arrested for harrassment, a misdemeanor.  I got bonded out later that evening, by putting my car up for collateral with a local bail bond agency.

When I went for first appearance, my name was not called by the D. A..  I asked why, and was informed that the charge was being upgraded to stalking, a serious felony.

I tried to find an attorney, and finally got a free initial consultation by one of the best attorneys in town.  He was very friendly, and even called the detective, to see what he had to say.  The Detective did not understand why I was being charged with stalking, and said, if anything, harrassment was the appropriate charge, that he did not think I was a threat to the  young lady involved.  Unfortunately, though, I could not afford the 5,000 fee to hire the attorney.

I ended up getting a letter to come for arraignment, and, because I could not post bail, went to jail for almost 6 weeks, until my sister finally bailed me out.  During that time, I saw my court-appointed attorney just once, and he did not even take the time to hear my side of the case.

On my trial date, my attorney still had no heard my side of the case.  FORTUNATELY, the judge post-poned the case, and my attorney and I opted for a bench trial in front of the judge, without a jury present.  He felt more comfortable that way.

The Friday before the trial, which was to be on Monday, my court-appointed attorney called me from the D. A.’s office, with the prosecuting attorney there, along with their investigator, to try to get me to plead guilty.  I told them that I could not, because the judge does not accept plea-bargains, and tells you not to plead guilty unless your are, in fact, guilty.  The D. A. told me that they were sure my motives were “honorable” but because stalking is a “gray” area of the law, unlike burglary, I could still be found guilty, even though I wasn’t.

My attorney thought we might have a 50-50 chance of winning and really encouraged me to plead guilty, saying that my ONLY penalty would be 2 years probation, and then the case would be dropped.  I still wish I had pled not guilty.  This is NOT a case of “justice for all,” but justice only if you can afford proper representation.

I went to court, and met with the so-called public defender, and the prosecuting attorney, and they assured me that if I pled guilty, that I could go home that evening, and all I would have was 2 years probation.  On job applications, I would not have to say that I was ever convicted of a felony.  I had the impression it wouldn’t even show up in my records.

Standing in front of the judge, it came my turn to plea, and I said guilty.  She asked me if there were any promises made to me, and I lied, and said no.  She asked me if I was pleading guilty because I was, in fact, guilty, and I said yes, KNOWING THAT I WAS LYING, but felt that I was not given any choice. I still regret that decision.

I didn’t think that it was still on my record until just recently.  The case was dismissed after finishing my probation, and I thought it was all over.  Not so.  I just applied to move into a nice apartment, and it came up in the records.  I brought the paperwork saying that it was dismissed, but I was turned down anyway.  I don’t know, but I have probably been turned down for jobs and other apartments because it comes up on the records when they do a criminal check.

This needs to change.  If a person is NOT convicted of a crime, and if they serve probabation, they should automatically be able to have their records expunged.  I they only have one offense and serve their time, paying their debt to society, they should have their records expunged.

In addition, there should be provision so that EVERYONE has access to PROPER PROFESSIONAL representation.

User story by shepherd in Texas

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