In these unstable economic times, business owners will go to great lengths to increase business. Susan Warren, owner of Sue Warren Cleaning, decided to go beyond advertising though and give potential consumers a sample of her services. The problem, however, is that Warren rarely bothers to get the consumer’s permission first.
Warren entered the home of Sherry Bush on May 22, 2012 in order to clean the dishes, vacuum the floor and take out the trash. She didn’t take anything. Mallory Bush, the homeowner’s eighteen year old daughter, was asleep upstairs and assumed it was her mother when she heard all the noise. But when Mallory came downstairs, she found a napkin with Warren’s phone number, address and a bill for seventy-five dollars. Sherry told Mallory no cleaning lady had been hired, so Mallory called the police.
Ohio police called Warren, who insisted she hadn’t cleaned the Bush house by mistake, but that Warren randomly cleaned people’s houses all the time. Warren was arrested and charged with burglary and criminal trespass. She recently pled guilty to attempted burglary.
Some readers might be confused why Warren was charged with burglary if she didn’t take anything from the Bush household. However, the crime of burglary is not trespassing to steal; burglary is trespassing to commit a crime. Most burglaries are done to commit a robbery, rape or murder, but cleaning a house is not a crime in any state, so the underlying crime for burglary is absent in this case.
The prosecution could have argued the un-consented billing of seventy-five dollars was a claim of ownership over the money. Since the Bush family never consented to the job, Warren’s expectation of being paid could be viewed as theft by trickery. However, it is highly doubtful most judges would believe that “theft” should be stretched to include unwanted work. The guilty plea to attempted burglary might have been unnecessary given that the prosecution would have a difficult time proving actual burglary.
More importantly though, Warren’s story is a textbook example of why the right to remain silent is so important. In one phone conversation, Warren wavered her strongest defense and multiplied the number of possible charges the District Attorney could bring against her. If a criminal defense attorney had been present with Warren when she spoke with the police, the attorney would have advised Warren not to disclose she had the correct house or that she often went into people’s homes to perform un-consented cleanings.
Although neither the defendant nor the attorney can lie, the burden is on the prosecution to raise charges and disprove defenses. By saying she had the correct house, Warren shot down any mistake of fact defense she could have made. Mistake of fact means that the defendant meant to do the right thing, but got confused about how to follow the law. In this case, Warren could have said she meant to do a legal job, but mixed up the addresses instead. Of course the police could have asked for Warren’s business records to see if she actually had a legal job that day, but it’s doubtful the police would have pursued a nonviolent crime this closely if Warren hadn’t been so defiant about what she made done.
However, not only did Warren kill one of her best defenses, she also gave the police more ammunition to give a harsher sentence. If a defendant says she has done a supposed crime before, that statement doesn’t excuse the defendant from committing the crime. Instead, the police will investigate other burglary reports so that they can hold Warren responsible for those crimes as well.
So remember, if you are ever charged with a crime and the police are speaking with you, ask for an attorney and then be quite until that attorney arrives. Doing otherwise might result in your case becoming a wash.