When Truancy Leads To Jail Time

May 31, 2012  •  Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

The well-publicized case of Diane Tran has taken a happy turn.

Tran, an honors student from Houston, Texas, was arrested last week after missing ten days of school.  It turned out that she wasn’t playing hookie. Because her parents had recently divorced and moved away, Tran was working two jobs to support herself and a sibling.  She didn’t go to school because she was just too tired to attend. After news of her arrest went viral, a fund was set up to receive donations on her behalf.  It’s reported that a week later, $100,000 has been contributed to the fund.

Diane Tran received more good news yesterday. The judge who issued the citation that led to her arrest set aside the contempt of court order that he issued last week.  Diane Tran’s lawyer, Brian Wice, tried to explain the practical significance of this change of heart.

She can now truthfully say that she doesn’t have a criminal history,” Wice told The Huffington Post by phone on Wednesday afternoon. He added that he’s now going to find a lawyer to expunge the record.

As a juvenile criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, I don’t know how expungement works under Texas law. But if the law in Texas is similar to California’s, an arrest for something as minor as truancy will be expunged when Diane Tran turns 18.  The record of the arrest will be sealed and destroyed at that time.

But in one sense, the record of Diane Tran’s arrest is going nowhere. Regardless of what courts in Texas will do, any future employer who Googles Diane Tran’s name is likely to find out about this unfortunate series of events.  In fact, there is a decent chance that Diane Tran will never do anything in her life that will garner as much attention as she has received since news of her arrest went public.

This is an unavoidable part of modern life.  The same publicity that enabled Diane Tran to receive a life changing amount of money will ensure that her initial arrest cannot be scrubbed clean from the public record.

Could What Happened to Diane Tran Happen in California?

Usually, Dina’s Tran’s situation would be handled in what’s known as the “informal juvenile traffic court.”  This is how California courts handle not only traffic but “status offenses” such as truancy, curfew violations, possession of a lighter, etc.  These are offenses that, under California law, lead to fines and driver’s license suspension, but not juvenile hall confinement.

But now, because of cuts to the budget courts impacting California courts, these informal juvenile traffic courts will likely close in the next month or so.  I hope that truancy and other status offenses will be handled through diversion programs without ever getting near the courts.  Whether that happens remains to be seen. The concern is that these cases could end up in the regular delinquency courts where it would be conceivable that some bench officer would want to “teach a kid a lesson” by sticking him/her in juvenile hall for a night.

In short, it’s more likely than ever that before too long we will have California’s version of Diane Tran.

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