Thursday, September 12, 2013

Evidence of Innocence

North Justice Center,                     January 13, 2010
Department 12.
Fullerton, California
Dear Judge Gaffney

Last night Constance Ruff was released from jail with instructions to return Thursday with a California ID, a social security card, and presumably having applied for a Washington birth certificate.  She was charged with defrauding an innkeeper, a criminal offense.

Luckily Andy Saavedra of the Lights On Ministry (mistakenly?) assumed that the National Guard Armory Cold Weather Shelter Contractor – Mercy House, would be unwilling to accept her at 11:30 PM, so he called us here at the Catholic Worker in Santa Ana.

Had she followed “the program” Orange County has provided for the incarcerated homeless she may well have been unable to appear before you today, let alone make any progress on the tasks assigned her.  We were mistakenly summoned however, and we are grateful to have been of some small assistance to this woman.  We were also completely baffled by how she could have presented a fraudulent ID, or any ID, for that matter, to validate her putative presentation of a stolen or invalid credit card.  Permit us to explain:

When Ms. Ruff, using bus passes unavailable elsewhere in OC, traveled to the Santa Ana DMV with her jail documents, she was told that they “contained false information.”  She then returned to the Intake and Release Center, where she was informed that current policy precludes giving out copies of booking photos.  At the Social Security office on First Avenue, she was told that while her jail health data was valid for a disability application, only a picture ID could avail her a copy of her SS card.  A birth certificate and an SS card may be needed to obtain a California ID, but I do not know if a birth certificate will serve in lieu of a picture ID to obtain an SS card.  It is for this reason that she was referred to Judge Lindley’s Community Court to sort out this mess.

I do know that she has been given funds for both her birth certificate and a California ID, and one of our volunteers accompanied her in her quest to perform as prescribed.

Given her honesty in her dealings with us, and our volunteer’s report of her total naiveté in navigating government procedures familiar to experienced cons, I wonder how she could have presented any ID, much less a real one, with the intention of renting a room.  Each and every time I have rented someone a room, and I do that a lot, I have been asked for my ID to verify my credit card, and then the person I get the room for is asked for their ID as part of some homeland security measure implemented within the Patriot Act.

While I’m lucky that my credit cards are both valid and match my ID, I wonder how she obtained a room without both.  If, as she alleges, a con man used a stolen card to obtain her room, fraud does not explain her obtaining a room without ID as well as fear or remorse experienced by a desk clerk compensated illegally explains an eleventh hour summons of the police to criminalize what is really a civil matter, albeit one that would, upon discovery, surely get them fired.

In comparing the use of stolen credit cards with using counterfeit money in People v. Munoz, (Super. Ct. No. 07WF0998) the Court held there was no evidence that either Munoz or Prado was actively engaged in the creation of this counterfeit currency, stating “Based upon the record in this case, then, we cannot infer that Munoz actually knew she was passing counterfeit currency as part of her payment to the motel manager, and thus we cannot conclude she intended to defraud the motel when she made that payment.”  Although the Court cited using stolen credit cards as a counter-example, it was because that party had provided cards “with their name on them.”  Presumably their name was determined from matching ID.  That element is clearly missing here.
We have provided Ms. Ruff with a size two dress and a bus pass that she might be able to appear before you today.  When you are presented with the paucity of her resources, both intellectual and documentary, we trust you will immediately succeed where the police, at the urging of the desk clerk, failed, and see her for the obvious innocent that she is.
Thank you very much for seeing justice done in this matter.

Br. Dwight Smith, SFO, Director

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