Charges That Last a Lifetime

leslie v

Leslie Vass (2013) in front of the former pharmacy where he was wrongfully arrested in 1975.

In 1975, Leslie was 17 years old and in his senior year of high school when he was arrested outside his neighborhood pharmacy while on his way to buy his mother a newspaper. The pharmacy delivery driver, who had been robbed at gun point four months earlier, identified Leslie as the man who robbed him. Because of his age and the charge Leslie was tried as an adult, and found guilty of robbery with a dangerous and deadly weapon and of the use of a handgun in the commission of a felony. Although he insisted on his innocence, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

While in prison, Leslie suffered mentally and physically. He was stabbed twice. It wasn’t until ten years into Leslie’s prison sentence that the delivery driver who accused Leslie recanted his statement and agreed to testify that he had identified the wrong person. Although the Baltimore City Circuit Court ordered that his conviction be expunged, the charge remained on Leslie’s criminal record. Leslie successfully filed for a second and third order of expungement in 1993 and again in 2005, and was continuously promised that the conviction was removed. Today, however, his wrongful conviction still remains on his criminal record.

Though not all youth are wrongfully convicted like Leslie was, many are and suffer the collateral consequences of their arrest.  Those who have adult criminal records at 17 still have them when they turn 27, and 37…and 77. They carry the burden of their teenage convictions for the rest of their lives, even if they’ve completed their time. Leslie exemplifies this – at 55 years old he is still suffering the consequences of the wrongful conviction that has remained on his record for nearly 40 years:

“The conviction, the arrest as a juvenile, will follow you. It is still impacting my life at this time. It’s really hard when you are trying to find employment, and being of this age, to have my criminal record still popping up. When I have applied for employment as a case manager, a social worker, a paralegal, an employment specialist, positions that I am trained in, that criminal history comes up. It’s traumatic that from the age of 17 to the age of 55 I am still dealing with the same situation from an unlawful imprisonment case.”

Today, Leslie is an activist and speaker on wrongful imprisonment with Life After Exoneration and the Mid-Atlantic Innocent Project. His goal is to help kids avoid the life that he spent behind bars and its repercussions. He is “tired of seeing youth get charged as adults when they’ve never had a life.”

Leslie is still struggling to find gainful employment to take care of his two children who are still at home: “I think at this point of time in all honesty I would be looking to retire and enjoy life, vacationing, and everything else that normal people want to do. My criminal conviction haunts me.”

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2 responses to “Charges That Last a Lifetime

  1. Pingback: Just got this wonderful message: YOUTH LEADERS WIN COURAGE AWARD! CONGRATS!!!! | ChildreninPrison·

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