Charles first attended the Salvos Legal Advice Bureau in Lakemba in July 2016, seeking advice on his criminal charge of larceny by a clerk. The offence occurred while he was working at a bar, where after receiving money from customers, he gave them their change but kept the original amount they gave him. Although the total amount was less than $60, he was facing two years’ imprisonment and/or a $2,200 fine for the offence.
When we spoke to Charles at Lakemba, we learned that he had a court hearing in two weeks and although he was a very polite and vibrant young man, he also had a very troubling history in relation to his mental health.
Around the time of the offence, Charles had just moved to Sydney from interstate. He was living on his friend’s couch and had no income or support people in his life. His father was working overseas and he had not spoken with his siblings in a very long time, which left him feeling extremely isolated.
Charles had moved to NSW for a fresh start following his release from a psychiatric facility where he’d stayed for nine months to seek treatment following an attempted suicide. This was partly as a result of experiencing a traumatic hate crime against him for being gay. Although Charles had made considerable progress and was released, shortly after arriving in Sydney he became increasingly depressed.
The lack of income or support people, as well as his traumatic past, led Charles to resort to alcohol as a means to cope with his situation. However, he remained hopeful, and throughout this time he continued to look for employment in a number of different types of jobs.
Charles received a trial employment as a bartender, but at the time he was severely depressed and had been drinking. Although he didn’t have any recollection of committing the offence, he immediately offered to pay the money back to the hotel owner and fully admitted to the offence and cooperated with police.
Salvos Legal Humanitarian decided that he was in desperate need of not only legal assistance, but also support from our chaplains and other support services from The Salvation Army. Salvos Legal Humanitarian represented him at his court date where he admitted to the facts of the offence and we sought to have his charges dismissed pursuant to section 32 of the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act 1990 (NSW). This would mean that Charles would be placed into the care of mental health professionals to receive treatment, not punishment.
Despite this support, Charles’s mental condition worsened. The stress of the proceedings and the feeling that the Salvos were his only friends led him to attempt to take his own life a week prior to the court hearing. Fortunately, because of the support that we could provide to him through his psychologists and our chaplains, he was able to move forward from this saddening incident.
We met with him shortly afterwards to explain the next steps and reassured him of the high likelihood of having his charges dismissed.
Salvos Legal Humanitarian connected Charles with psychology services and obtained a psychiatric report and mental health care plan to be used in the proceedings. At court, we explained his situation and the significance of the care plan, along with the devastating impact the criminal penalties would have on Charles.
Ultimately, the Court saw fit that it would be more appropriate to dismiss his charges and that Charles should continue to engage with his psychologists and receive treatment in accordance with the care plan, rather than being imprisoned and/or receiving a large fine.
As an unexpected surprise, Charles’s father flew from overseas to Sydney to attend the court date and support his son. It was an emotional experience during and after the proceedings but Charles was extremely grateful with the outcome and the support that Salvos Legal Humanitarian, as well as The Salvation Army, provided to him throughout the proceedings and promised to provide in the future.
Charles returned to his home interstate and is now spending time with his father and siblings. We wish Charles all the very best.