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Plea in abeyance lets woman avoid jail for minor in possession charge

December 2nd, 2011 Posted in Opinion

By Lindsay Nemelka and D. Whitney Smith

LOGAN — Waiving her right to counsel, a defendant facing a minor in possession charge entered a guilty plea in abeyance Tuesday morning in 1st District Court. Shaulynne Rae Leonard, 19, was sentenced to six months probation, two days in the work diversion program — in lieu of jail time — and a total of $500 in fees.

“When you plead guilty, you give up all your constitutional rights with this charge,” Judge Thomas Willmore told Leonard, in regard to her plea. “This is a very serious charge. It holds a maximum sentence of up to 180 days in county jail.”

According to his report, Forest Division Deputy Chad Hess of the Cache County Sheriff’s Office was on patrol in Logan Canyon the night of Aug. 25 and stopped at Wood Camp because he said he had heard a woman scream. Hess reported he saw four young women, one of whom had cut her foot. The deputy stated that he aided the woman in applying antiseptic to the wound.

As he was doing this, Hess said he noticed opened alcohol containers and asked if the women were old enough to drink. One individual said she was 23, but two said they were 20 and one admitted to being 19, said Chief Deputy Brad Slater, citing the report.

Hess gave a portable breath test to the women and three tested positive for alcohol consumption, Slater said.

Three of the young women were issued citations for purchase, possession or consumption by a minor — a class B misdemeanor punishable by jail time and a fine of up to $1,000. The fourth was issued a citation for supplying alcohol to minors, Slater said.

In court, Deputy County Attorney Barbara Lachmar suggested Leonard be given the opportunity to enter a plea in abeyance, which requires completion of probation, fine payments and possible drug and alcohol counseling after submitting to a Bear River Health Department intake and assessment.

Leonard, who said she’s not from Cache Valley, said she works a part-time job and a seasonal job, and between the two she works roughly 40 hours per week. Based on the information provided by the defendant, Willmore said Leonard was not eligible for court-appointed counsel.

Leonard said she would not seek counsel because she couldn’t afford to hire an attorney.

Lachmar said she would recommend against any jail time, but she wasn’t sure if the judge would comply. “He’s going to want to make sure you’re not hanging out with people who are violating the law,” Lachmar said to Leonard.

After a brief recess the judge re-entered the courtroom, and Lachmar told him she offered the defendant a plea in abeyance and did not recommend jail time since Leonard had no prior record.

“I think that’s fine,” Willmore said, “in light of the season.”

When Willmore asked the defendant why she did it, she said she felt pressure to drink. Leonard said it was “stupid” and she has definitely learned from the experience.

Outside the courtroom, Lachmar said current conversation among her and her colleagues regards how to effectively handle cases involving minors illegally possessing marijuana or consuming alcohol.

She said she doesn’t want the county’s approach to disciplining these types of crimes to be perceived as too hard or too soft. Rather, she said, she hopes punishment will help these young people learn to stay out of trouble in the future.

NW

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