It’s every college parent’s worst nightmare: your athletic, high-achieving child gets into an esteemed school and then gets charged with a serious crime. That’s the horrifying situation Stewart and his parents, George and Julia, found themselves in barely two months into Stewart’s freshman year at Wofford College in Spartanburg.

And it wasn’t a DUI or public drunk charge. Stewart got charged with burglary second degree in Spartanburg. That’s a felony carrying 10 years in prison. Stewart was in grave trouble. 

Fortunately for Stewart, his parents handled the crisis perfectly, which allowed me to position him to not just get the charge dismissed but to get it wiped off his criminal record.

The Call

All parents secretly dread “the call” telling them their child has suffered an awful misfortune. But it’s the call that follows it that can dictate the outcome. George and Julia made the right one. Here’s how:

  • They didn’t try to hide from it or go it alone. Stewart was in jail.  As both of his parents are professionals, they knew he needed the kind of help they couldn’t give. They called a local criminal defense lawyer in the city where they lived. They called the right guy—he knew how to use attorney networks to find a solid criminal defense attorney in Spartanburg.
  • They followed a professional referral. Their defense lawyer friend recommended that they call me. They did.
  • They acted fast. Within 48 hours of Stewart’s arrest, George and Julia were in my office to hire me.

What I Did to Help

I answered all of George and Julia’s questions, especially about bail, the criminal process in South Carolina, and building a defense to achieve Stewart’s goals.  Once hired, I went to the jail to meet Stewart, inform him of the process, and build his first, most important case: getting out of jail on bail.

  • I talked to the campus police investigator who made the arrest. I secured his agreement that Stewart could get out without paying any bail money despite the severity of the charges. This is called a “PR bond.”
  • I prepared a letter to the bail judge outlining the reasons to give Stewart a PR bond and sent it in.
  • I met his parents at the jail to summarize our meeting—with Stewart’s consent. I assured them he was okay.
  • My letter helped. Despite the charges and Stewart moving back home, which was out of state, the judge only ordered him to pay a $3,000 bond.

What Happened

We began to unravel the source and nature of the charges. Basically, Stewart entered a dorm room without consent and took several hundred dollars from a friend. He also slashed another student’s tire, resulting in another charge, malicious injury to personal property.

Stewart’s Parents Make a Hard Decision—But It Was the Right One

I turned my first negotiation attempts at eliminating criminal prosecution by asking the college to handle disciplining Stewart. In effect, Wofford College would take over the charges. That would subject him only to school discipline—the criminal charges would be dismissed.

Wofford regretfully replied they couldn’t comply with my request. The victim insisted on prosecution, which was his right under South Carolina state law.

Wofford still initiated college discipline proceedings against Stewart. His parents made another right call, but a hard one. They withdrew him from school to prevent potential expulsion, which could destroy his chances to go anywhere else.

The Real Defense: Pre-Trial Intervention

Stewart had no defense. That’s a fearsome prospect when you’re facing 10 years. But I felt he remained a candidate for Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) even though burglary second degree is usually too severe a crime to qualify.

I developed a strategy to make him an exception, built around these factors:

  • He had no prior record.
  • He’d paid the money back.
  • I stayed in close touch with campus police to keep them on Stewarts’s side to get PTI. Luckily, the lead investigator was sympathetic, especially when I told him about Stewart’s response.

Stewart Turns a Huge Negative Into a Positive

There’s a lot I can do to help when you’re charged with a crime, but I can’t do it alone. Stewart did all he could, and more, to show he’d learned from this experience—and wouldn’t be repeating it.

He realized he had problems to resolve, and he went to work on them.

  • Alcohol contributed to the incident, so he started Alcoholics Anonymous.
  • He began counseling for intensive alcohol outpatient treatment, plus behavioral management.
  • Though he’d moved back home, Stewart didn’t hide. He remained productive and continued pursuing his goals. He got two jobs and enrolled at a local community college.

All of this helped me honestly present Stewart as a young man who’d made a horrible mistake, instead of a young criminal. Stewart’s commitment to sobriety and self-improvement helped sway the prosecutor to grant an unusual departure in a case of this nature.

Negotiations With the Prosecutor—and the Victim

The officer’s wishes often carry a lot of weight with how the prosecutor wants to dispose of the case—or as I see it, my client’s immediate future. As a critical part of my strategy, I’d plowed a lot of ground with the lead investigator to get him to recommend Stewart for PTI. And the victim gets a voice, too. I’d made sure the officer kept the victim’s family abreast of Stewart’s progress. In response, they supported PTI, too.

After presenting this to the prosecutor, an 800-pound gorilla was lifted from Stewart’s back. The State let him into PTI. We were thrilled and relieved!

Unfortunately, my job advocating for Stewart still wasn’t done. Shockingly, the victim claimed Stewart still owed him money. When the prosecutor reported the demand, I responded with a reconstruction of the money Stewart repaid. Armed with this, the prosecutor shut the victim down. Stewart owed the victim no more money.

Onward and Upward

Stewart finished PTI easily, as expected. He’s still committed to sobriety and self-improvement, and he’s happy. Most important, he’s moving forward with his life, putting a dark moment behind him. I’m thankful I could be a part of helping his parents prevent a terrible mistake from haunting him forever. What began as a horrible choice got fixed by Stewart and his parents when they made the right ones in response.

Rob Usry
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Rob is a Spartanburg personal injury lawyer. Rob also practices as a workers' compensation attorney.