Sandra was 17 years old when we first met her. She had had a troubled youth. Her family in New Zealand had sent her to live with her uncle and aunt in Brisbane at the age of 15. Life with the relatives was not easy and was characterised by harsh discipline that bordered on domestic violence.
Eventually, Sandra ran away from that house and for a period lived rough on the streets, hanging around with street gangs for safety in numbers.
With little money, Sandra would evade fares to ride the trains. Sometimes she did so to avoid other youth who were threatening her, and sometimes just to meet up with people in the city to hang out.
She quickly amassed a string of ‘evade fare’ offences that led to a missed court appearance and a warrant for her arrest.
As we continued to delve into Sandra’s story in our interview with her, we became aware that there was also a stealing charge, relating to her use of a relative’s mobile phone, and a warrant for her arrest.
Sandra was scared, vulnerable and lacking trust in people.
She had been living on the streets for about two years and it was clear to us that Sandra needed more than just legal advice and assistance. Fortunately, she was now being supported by a Salvation Army youth worker and had been offered accommodation.
We appeared in Court for Sandra to have the arrest warrant revoked on the basis of her voluntary appearance before the Court, and also to seek an adjournment so that we could assist Sandra further.
At a later court appearance, Sandra pleaded guilty to the ‘evade fare’ charges and we made sentencing submissions on her behalf, emphasising her vulnerability and the assistance that she was now receiving from The Salvation Army.
Following our submissions, the Magistrate placed Sandra on a 6-month good behaviour bond.
That was a wonderful outcome for our client and showed the Magistrate had taken our submissions into consideration. However, our work was not done yet.
We then worked with the police prosecutor over a number of appearances to provide further and better particulars in respect of the stealing charge as there were a number of contested facts and some deficiencies.
In the midst of all this, Sandra returned to living on the streets and our only contact with her was through her youth worker.
Despite her transient lifestyle, Sandra always appeared at court. Even though she was living rough at the time, the connections that she had made through The Salvation Army meant that Sandra had returned to school and was now completing Year 12.
After much negotiation with the prosecution, and with the assistance of counsel, we were able to reach an agreement with police. The stealing charge for the mobile phone would be dropped in return for an apology and a small compensation payment to the relative who had been temporarily deprived of the mobile phone.
Without our assistance and advocacy, Sandra may well have disengaged from the court process. This would have resulted in a further arrest warrant and significantly more severe penalties.
The good news is that Sandra is now moving on with her life, free of any recorded convictions. She is studying and hopes to work with troubled youth.
There are times when we reach out to assist and we may not see the outcome of our assistance. In this case, Sandra has remained connected with her youth worker at The Salvation Army and we see her regularly.