Jury convicts woman for drugs

  • Courtesy Kauai Police Department

    Julia Scriven

LIHUE — A Fifth Circuit jury on Wednesday found a local homeless woman guilty of heroin possession.

Jurors deliberated for a little over an hour before returning a unanimous verdict, convicting Julia Scriven, 31, of promoting a dangerous drug in the third degree.

The guilty verdict came shortly after attorneys gave their closing arguments on the third day of the trial. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Leon Davenport addressed the jury first.

“Julia was passed out on the bed,” Davenport told the jurors, describing the scene that unfolded when Scriven’s mother entered a Lihue motel room and found her daughter unconscious near a bag containing heroin. “She had the only key.”

Davenport reiterated the case he had spent the previous two days laying out by questioning his series of witnesses, a list that included the officers who responded to the scene, the police department employees who controlled the evidence, a chemical analysis expert who identified the drug, and even Scriven’s own mother.

The prosecution’s case hinged on two points. To find the defendant guilty, the jury had to unanimously conclude that Scriven possessed the heroin found in her backpack and that she did so knowingly.

Because Scriven was never seen holding the drugs, Davenport relied on “constructive possession,” a concept he described during his opening statement using an analogy in which he asked jurors to imagine they walked outside and assumed it had rained because the ground and trees and cars were wet.

If the substance found in her bag tested positively for heroin, Davenport said, “It rained.”

Scriven’s defense attorney, Matthew Mannisto, used his closing statement to attempt to cast doubt on what he hoped were the weakest points of the prosecution’s case. He began by intimating that Scriven’s mother may have planted the drugs, saying she bent over backwards to ensure police came to investigate her daughter.

“If Julia’s mother was willing to bend the truth on the stand in front of all of us,” Mannisto asked the jurors, “what else would she be willing to do?”

He also attempted to shed doubt in the minds of the jurors regarding the fact that police never dusted the evidence for fingerprints or took DNA samples.

“Given the facts of this case are you comfortable finding that Ms. Scriven possessed heroin?” Mannisto asked in closing.

All 12 jurors were apparently comfortable.

It is rare for any case to go to trial — the vast majority are settled via plea bargain — and given the relative insignificance of the charge, Scriven’s case is an unusual and comparitively costly one. Attorneys on both sides declined to comment on why the case wasn’t settled prior to trial and would not say whether Scriven was offered a plea deal.

The state invested thousands of dollars and dozens of man hours pursuing the class C felony conviction. It’s target was a woman who had less than $200 worth of illegal drugs in her backpack and was sound asleep in a motel room when her mother called police.

The trial tied up the Fifth Circuit courtroom of Judge Randal Valenciano for nearly three full days, including the jury selection process, and required the efforts of two Kauai County prosecutors, a court-appointed defense attorney, a couple bailiffs, at least one court clerk, and 14 Kauai residents — 12 jurors, plus two alternates.

Because Scriven could not afford a lawyer, the state was required to provide one to her free of cost, meaning that the hundreds of man hours devoted to her case all came at the expense of taxpayers.

The state presumably also had to buy plane tickets for two of the prosecution’s witnesses. Scriven’s mother was subpoenaed and flew in from Oregon to testify against her daughter. A chemical analysis expert came from off island and provided hours of testimony to help convince jurors that the small, black globule in Scriven’s purse contained some unspecified amount of heroin.

The cost of the trial is only a fraction of the total amount spent prosecuting Scriven.

All told, the case was well over a year in the making. Scriven has been in jail since May 2018 and her crime carries a maximum five-year sentence, meaning that by the time she is sentenced in August, Scriven will have already served nearly 16 months.

It costs the state of Hawaii over $43,000 to house an inmate for one year, according to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice. So even if Scriven is sentenced to a prison term equal to time served, the state will have spent over $55,000 o incarcerate her. A maximum sentence would leave taxpayers on the hook for well over $200,000.

Part of that cost could be offset by court-ordered fines, although $10,000 is the maximum amount allowed for a class C felony, and Scriven has not generated any legal income in years.


Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cloehrer@thegardenisland.com.

  1. Steve May 16, 2019 7:00 am Reply

    Why is half of this article a propaganda piece against a fair justice system? The crime is this case should be a medical issue and never made it to the courts. The State chose to prosecute her instead treating her addiction as a health crisis, costing much more money and having worse outcome for everyone.

  2. Major Lee Hung May 16, 2019 7:11 am Reply

    Excellent use of taxpayers money.

  3. kimo May 16, 2019 7:58 am Reply

    The last half of this article disturbs me. Justice should not be based on dollars or costs. There are social and emotional costs to the community when the “catch and release” programs continually put bad people back on the streets. I hope the convicted person gets help but I am very happy she will not be out in public for a while.

  4. Bluedream May 16, 2019 8:13 am Reply

    It seems like the writer of the article thinks it was a waste of money for the mom to step in and save her daughter from all of the scumbag junkies and dealers that have infested Kauai. I think it was money well spent. Better spent on saving just one life than wasting it on frivolous lawsuits from county workers and the such.

    Caleb probably doesn’t have kids to worry about in this age of global population control trying to wipe out an entire sector of the middle class. 70,000 ODs this past year is unnerving and not acceptable. We need to bring drug dogs back at the airport and more parents to bring their kids back and get help.

  5. hutch May 16, 2019 10:07 am Reply

    Hang on big minute, Caleb Loehrer. What gives you, a mere reporter, the right to turn a story about a trial into your own little op-ed on the cost of the criminal justice system? The trial “tied up” the courtroom? Brah, what do you think courtrooms are for? Swap meets? Please confine your ‘journalism’ to actually reporting news, not making yourself the arbiter of what constitutes justice.

  6. UpsideDown May 16, 2019 12:36 pm Reply

    Upside down judicial system on Kauai. They punish more drug customers/addicts then they do drug dealers and drug rings.

    True story: I reported a heroin/meth dealer who was a known drug dealer from the north shore to east side of Kauai when they opened up shop and were dealing heroin/meth in a quiet neighborhood. The house turned into a 24/7 drug operation with chronically buying and using of the said drugs at the house (later burned down but prior her client committed suicide at the residence). The cops rat me out to the supplier (big Hawaiian/podagee guy) and the female continued to sell drugs for years. This was connected to the executive branch on Kauai and the police Dept and also a gun store. As a felon she was brandishing a handgun (gun control Kauai with the judge and chief of police protesting in front of county bldg BS). So who can you trust on kauai when drug dealers and drug rings are protected and the customers/addicts become the fall guy/gal? It’s a job security scheme and side cash for the corrupt judicial employees. The PA office has a strike team called Drug Nuances Abatement Unit (DNAU formerly NDAU) that gets federal funding and they also protected the female drug dealer and got really upset when I called them out for not doing their job(s). That unit should be dismantled and not receive federal funding for incompetence and unbecoming of public safety officials.

    True story so check the facts. TGI will probably block this comment because it exposes corruption within the judicial community.

    Surprised that this article made Thursday paper. Usually any good article is hidden on Friday through the weekend. It’s a censorship tactic because they know most people don’t read weekend papers.

  7. Uncleaina May 16, 2019 4:55 pm Reply

    You guys need to watch a YouTube video on journalism – lately you’ve been publishing nonsense.

  8. Greg May 17, 2019 7:28 am Reply

    I am Julia’s uncle and her mother’s brother. It’s painful for our family to be in this situation, but in every group there are those who stumble and our extended family has had to endure two heroin addictions. We were lucky with the first family member and are praying for a similar outcome in Julia’s case. What’s making this ordeal worse is the absurd allegation that her mother planted evidence in an attempt to frame Julia.
    People who do drugs know exactly where to find them. For someone who has never done any, the idea of concocting such a scheme and then walking the streets asking strangers where to buy them, prior to trafficking them through airport security so you can plant them on your daughter with no guarantee of a judicial outcome is more than stupid… it’s ridiculous.
    The entire family is praying that Julia will find the light before she runs out of time and her mother did the only thing she could do under the circumstances. Our Julia has battled this demon for many years and we hope her mother’s actions purchased a little time for Julia to reset her life and maybe see this as a chance for a fresh start.
    It’s easy for onlookers to comment and formulate opinions one way or another, but it’s quite another to be praying that a loved one lives long enough to correct their behaviors.

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