Honesty is the best policy

This week in 5th Circuit Court a single mother of two young children was sentenced to probation and was in tears as deputy sheriffs escorted her out of the courtroom to serve five days in jail.

The intensity of the moment grew as her own mother approached the court to say she would risk her own job by taking time off work to pick up her daughter’s children from school.

The 34-year-old Koloa woman was convicted of second-degree theft after restaurant employees presented her with a purse they found on a bench outside the front entrance. They believed it was hers and so did she, according to her attorney, because the bags were nearly identical.

The defendant was busy watching her children at the restaurant and did not pay close attention, she said. She made a mistake by choosing not to return or report the bag after discovering there was $1,500 cash inside.

This was more than a month’s salary, the attorney said. She made a decision that many struggling parents would make in the same situation.

“I hope that you are wrong and that most people would not succumb to that sort of temptation,” said Judge Kathleen Watanabe. “This case is about honesty. Your children were with you and this was an opportunity to teach them a lesson.”

Watanabe said there is no distinction between someone going out of their way to steal a purse, or someone having it handed to them and choosing not to give it back. They are both thefts and involve making choices, she said.

The judge noted the irony of the defendant asking the court to consider her college schedule during sentencing. The victim was also a student and the cash in the purse was from her student aid check she cashed to repay her mother and to buy books for the semester. She ended having to borrow from other relatives to start the semester.

The deputy prosecutor stated the defendant was arrested for making a false report to law enforcement officers after reporting her own purse was stolen. She was then charged with second-degree theft for a purse she did not return.

The defendant was also in court for failing to complete her community service hours for a credit card theft conviction in 2008. The judge said these two cases involve honesty and given the repeat crime that some jail was required.

If the defendant remains out of trouble for the next six months she will not have to serve the remainder of what would have been a 30-day sentence.

• Island Crime Beat is a column that reflects on the current events and issues regarding the police, courts and criminal justice system of Kauai.

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