Your Matters Matter – Jessica

Humanitarian Stories

Your Matters Matter – Jessica

By Donald Spearritt

Jessica sought urgent legal advice at our Goodna advice bureau in Queensland because she had been charged with possessing and uttering counterfeit money under the Commonwealth Crimes (Currency) Act 1981. Jessica was visibly distressed and anxious when we first met her. She approached us with an impending trial date and was facing a maximum penalty of 12 years imprisonment for the charge of uttering counterfeit money and 10 years imprisonment for the charge of possessing counterfeit money. She was understandably very worried as she had been navigating the criminal process alone and had been self-represented throughout all of her previous appearances in Court. Rejected for Legal Aid, she had been referred on by a number of community support centres.

The objective evidence against Jessica was overwhelming. Extensive CCTV footage, photographs and numerous witness statements left no doubt that our client physically possessed and uttered counterfeit money at a number of complainant businesses. However, a critical element of the offences, which must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution, is that the accused had subjective knowledge that the money she possessed and uttered was in fact counterfeit.

The honesty of Jessica’s statement of how she came about the counterfeit money was vital. Her instructions to us were clear; at no point did she have this knowledge that the money she held in her possession was counterfeit. At the time these offences were alleged to have been committed, Jessica was on suicide watch and had been residing in emergency accommodation following an extended period of homelessness. Sadly, the emergency accommodation she was referred to turned out to be no safer than the park she had been sleeping in during those long nights. In an effort to appease a group of individuals residing in the same emergency accommodation and of whom she was fearful, Jessica reluctantly agreed to their request to purchase a number of items on their behalf with money they provided to her.

Armed with Jessica’s instructions to us as to her innocence, Salvos Legal Humanitarian prepared a detailed submission (known as a case conferencing request) to the Police Prosecutions Unit. This submission addressed the lack of any evidence to establish the requisite subjective element of knowledge in the alleged offences and focused on the vulnerability of our client, who had been preyed upon by a gang of criminals. As to her vulnerability, we noted that Jessica had a difficult childhood. Her upbringing was overshadowed by a violent and alcoholic father and a distant mother, from whom she is estranged. Following a tragic accident that claimed the lives of her children, Jessica developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She also suffers from chronic anxiety disorder and insomnia. We made the submission to the prosecution that due to this vulnerability she was an easy target for the criminals with whom she shared emergency accommodation. Jessica had fallen victim to a cruel and calculated act by people wishing to exploit her.

Because we believed we could make a difference in Jessica’s life, we sought the assistance of a barrister who agreed to assist pro bono. A brief was prepared for trial as we waited to hear from prosecutions regarding our case conferencing request. However, a week before Jessica’s scheduled hearing, we were given the wonderful news that the prosecution would withdraw all charges against Jessica. Had it not been for Salvos Legal Humanitarian, there is little doubt that Jessica’s case could have easily fallen through the cracks and she could have ended up with a severely unjust outcome.

Jessica informs us that she has now secured safe and stable accommodation for the first time in three years and is pursuing both paid and voluntary work opportunities. After mowing countless number of lawns and working part time as a dog walker, she has now landed a new job that she really loves. Jessica is also passionate about refugee rights and is pursuing a number of voluntary opportunities to assist recent migrants in their transition into life in Australia by providing English language support.
Jessica was extremely grateful for our assistance and we look forward to keeping in touch with her in the future.

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Your Matters Matter – Jessica