The Iowa Supreme Court rules crime committed by a Polk County woman shouldn’t count against her record because she didn’t have a lawyer. Archaletta Young was cited for fifth-degree theft in 2003 for stealing $104 in merchandise from Walmart. She failed to appear in court and was arrested, and then pled guilty and was given one day in jail.
Almost 10 years later she was arrested for allegedly stealing $94.87 worth of clothing from Walmart. Prosecutors said the latest arrest, combined with the arrest in 2003 and one other, were enough to elevate her crime to theft in the third-degree, which would lead to a tougher penalty. Young appealed, saying she was poor and didn’t have a lawyer when she pled guilty in 2003, so the charge should not count against her for an enhanced penalty.
The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that anyone facing a misdemeanor charge with the possibility of prison time should have the right to have a lawyer. And the court says if they do not have a lawyer, then any conviction should not be used to increase the penalty for a later crime.
The ruling noted the significance of the case,”The bottom line is that while the treatment of misdemeanor cases by our judicial system is not likely to generate a media frenzy or rivet the attention of the public, it does raise important issues for our criminal justice system and those directly affected by it. Although lacking dazzle and glitz, this case thrusts us into an inquiry as close to the heart of the legal system as that actually experienced by thousands of Iowans.”
Young’s case was sent back to the district court for sentencing on the lesser charge.
Here’s the full rulling: Young ruling PDF