Your Right to Appeal: Ashley White as a Case Study
One of the highest profile cases in Central Virginia over the last few years has been the Noah Thomas case. Noah Thomas was 5 years old in March 2015 when he was reported missing. After a frantic, 4-day search, his body was tragically found in the family’s septic tank. Noah was dead.
Charges were filed against Noah’s parents, Paul Thomas and Ashley White. Both were charged with child abuse and neglect because they left Noah home alone early in the morning while White took Thomas to work. Nothing happened to Noah until White came home and went back to sleep; it was during this time that Noah fell into the septic tank and died. For that reason, White was also charged with the more serious charge of child abuse and neglect leading to injury.
Thomas, Noah’s father, was sentenced to 15 months in prison. White served a 23-month sentence. In most cases, this would be the end of the story. They were found guilty by a judge. They have served their sentences. That is it.
But not this story.
White and her attorney appealed the more serious charge that contributed to her prison sentence. It took until after White had served her full sentence for the Virginia Court of Appeals to make its decision, but the decision was in White’s favor. The conviction of felony child abuse and neglect leading to injury was reversed.
It might seem silly. Why play out an appeal even after the prison sentence has been served? The first obvious answer is that the conviction is no longer part of White’s criminal record. Ashley White, despite the initial conviction, can no longer be considered guilty of the reversed charge.
Another answer to the “why” question is that she could. After White was found guilty, the ability to appeal was her legal right. This blog has looked at various legal rights of citizens in the past – for instance, the right to a jury trial. Another right of citizens is the right to appeal a criminal conviction. In this case, her attorney argued that Noah’s death was not the result of abuse or neglect by White and that the evidence was insufficient to find her guilty.
Virginia Court of Appeals:
The Court of Appeals of Virginia granted White's Petition for Appeal and ultimately decided that the dangers in the home that contributed to Noah’s death could not be foreseen. Therefore, even though White was napping when Noah fell into the septic tank, her actions could not be considered abuse or neglect. If you are a parent who has ever taken a nap while your children were home, you may also agree.
When the appellate court decided to overturn White’s conviction, the Virginia Attorney General’s office petitioned to have the decision reviewed again. The court declined, upholding its decision in favor of White.
The Noah Thomas case has a tragedy at its core which should not be forgotten. In the end, though, it also demonstrated the criminal justice system at its best. A mother was found guilty of child abuse and neglect. The mother, with the help of her defense attorney, appealed the decision, and the appeal was decided in her favor. The appealed convictions were overturned.
No one ever wants to face legal trouble, especially not the kind found in this case. When it happens, however, you should always know all of your options. A good defense attorney will be able to help you understand them. From there, you should very seriously consider exploring those legal options to their fullest. A good defense attorney will help you do that.
If you are in the midst of a need like this right now, call or e-mail today for a free consultation!
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