Old guy, Vietnam vet: Looking for attorney

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I get calls from people all of the time asking for legal help.
Usually, there is nothing I can do for them except suggest they get an attorney.
But this call was interesting.

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An old guy — a Vietnam vet — takes a Christmas present, some towels, back to Walmart. It’s New Year’s Eve 2011. Wait, it gets worse.

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He gets in line with his bag containing the towels.
It’s a long line, he says.

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An employee walks by and he explains he is just trying to make an exchange.
“I wasn’t fond of the colors,” he tells me.
He has his “lady friend,” as he calls her, along with him. They are headed to a party afterward.
The employee asks him if he has the receipt and if the tags are still on the towels.
He says, “Yes.”

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He says she tells him to take the towels to the towel department, put them back, pick out the ones he wants and go back to the service counter.

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He puts the towels back and, being a smart man, goes looking for his lady friend, who has wandered off, to help him pick out the replacement towels.
He picks up a cart along the way.
He says he finds his lady friend near the front door and they go to the towel department and pick out the towels they like.

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He goes back to the return counter, shows his receipt, explains what he did and starts pushing his cart toward the door.
There he is stopped by store security and taken into a room near the front of the store, he says.
He explains there is a misunderstanding. Security is not buying it and the police are called. 

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He is taken to the police department and charged with summary retail theft.
He and his lady friend miss the party.

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In June, he has his summary hearing.
He asks the judge if he needs an attorney and he says the judge tells him, “No, that’s not necessary.”

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I should mention at this point he is on a fixed income — Social Security — is partly blind and almost deaf.
He says that during the hearing he could not hear what the security guy said and he could not see what the police officer showed to the judge or hear what he said.

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The judge asked him if he would like to cross-examine the witnesses to which he replies, “For what? I couldn’t hear them.”

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The evidence against him, he believes, is a picture of him with his lady friend, pushing an empty shopping cart from the front of the store to the towel department.
Ah, and that would be, according to him, his second trip from the front of the store.

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The judge asked for his plea. He said, “Not guilty.” The judge found him guilty and fined him $100 plus costs.
He said the judge was nice, putting him on a payment plan.

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He called a couple of attorneys with the idea of appealing the conviction but he said everybody wanted from $700 to a grand or more to take his appeal.
He couldn’t afford it.

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He went home from his hearing and apparently stewed for a couple of months and then called me.

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He had two questions for me:
Did he get railroaded? Because he sure feels he did.
Does he now have any options? Because he doesn’t like having a record, even a summary conviction.

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I couldn’t answer his questions.
He seems like a nice guy. I’ve got a lot of respect for anyone who has served in a war zone.
Anyone got any answers for him?

About Rick Lee

Rick Lee is a veteran courthouse reporter for the York Daily Record/Sunday News. Contact him at rlee@ydr.com or call 495-1782.
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