Jerry is an elderly man from a non-English speaking background. He has lived by himself in an apartment building in Sydney’s western suburbs for many years.
We met Jerry for the first time in June 2015 at our Auburn Advice Bureau. Jerry attended the Advice Bureau with a police fact sheet which said that he had been charged with affray, and that he was required to attend Court later in the week.
In NSW, affray is considered to be a serious public disorder offence. The offence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. People are typically charged with affray if they have acted violently or threateningly around other people.
After reviewing the police facts, we thought that the police had made a mistake in charging Jerry with a criminal offence, because he clearly had not engaged in any criminal conduct.
The police facts described how Jerry and his neighbour had become involved in a verbal argument, which escalated when Jerry’s neighbour sprayed him in the eyes with oven cleaner. Jerry was in pain and could not see. He followed his neighbour outside of the apartment building, where he picked up a stick to try and fend off his neighbour. Other residents of the apartment and quickly intervened to stop Jerry’s neighbour, who continued to spray oven cleaner in his face, and called the police.
Jerry told us that he was seriously injured as a result of having oven cleaner sprayed in his eyes and was immediately taken to hospital. He was interviewed by the police while he was in hospital, and was shocked to discover a few weeks later that he had been charged with an offence.
Jerry had never been in trouble with the law before and was very nervous about attending Court. He had been to see Legal Aid, but they were not able to assist because, even though the charge was very serious, it was unlikely that he would be sentenced to a term of imprisonment for his first offence.
We thought that Jerry had a strong defence, but we also knew that he would not be able to properly present his case on his own. We advised Jerry that he should enter a plea of not guilty and that we would represent him.
After Jerry entered his plea of not guilty the matter was listed for a hearing, we wrote to the police officer in charge of the investigation and requested that he consider withdrawing the charge against Jerry. We argued that the evidence did not in any way suggest that Jerry’s conduct was in any way violent or threatening. We suggested that the facts indicated that the other residents who actually witnessed the incident were not afraid of Jerry, they were primarily concerned with protecting him from his neighbour.
We were disappointed with the officer in charge initially told us that he was not going to withdraw the charges.
Thankfully for Jerry, shortly before the day of the hearing, the police prosecutor contacted our office to let us know that her boss had reconsidered our written representations and had decided to withdraw the charge against Jerry.
As a result Jerry’s matter was successfully resolved, and he was spared (at the last minute) of the stress of having to go through a defended hearing.
Jerry was very grateful and relieved with the final outcome of his matter. When we attended our final court appearance and the charges were formally withdrawn, Jerry told us that he has moved to a new address and he is getting on well with all of his new neighbours.