County Prosecutor Mitch Roth said he’s “disappointed” by a 10-month jail sentence handed down Thursday to a 52-year-old Puna man described by his own lawyer as “illiterate” and “naive” in a felony drug and forgery case.
“I’m going to give you a break and put you on probation,” 3rd Circuit Judge Glenn Hara told Franklin Grammer. Hara then sentenced him to four years probation and 18 months in jail, with all but 10 months stayed, and 300 hours of community service. The judge also ordered Grammer to enroll in a literacy program.
“Personally, I was surprised, based on his record and based on the fact that there were three felony offenses he was pleading to at three separate times. And the guy just got out of prison. Very surprising,” Roth said afterward.
In a deal with prosecutors, Grammer pleaded no contest to forgery and two counts of third-degree promotion of a dangerous drug. In return for his plea, drug paraphernalia charges were dropped.
Deputy Prosecutor Lucas Burns argued for a five-year prison sentence for Grammer, who admitted to passing a counterfeit $100 bill at a 7-Eleven store Jan. 20, 2013, and to possession of methamphetamine Dec. 5, 2013.
“The state is certain that a prison term … is warranted, based on his criminal history,” Burns told the judge, adding that Grammer had prior felony convictions for burglary, theft and strong-arm robbery.
Deputy Public Defender Sherilyn Tavares, who represented Grammer on the forgery charge, told the judge that her client was released from prison in 2011. She and Cody Frenz, who was appointed by the court to represent Grammer on the drug charges, argued for probation.
Tavares described Grammer, who has an eighth-grade education, as “extremely under-educated, illiterate” and “naive” with “a really big heart.” She said his lack of education makes him “suspect to those who continue to take advantage of him.”
“In eighth grade, he was pretty much ordered to drop out of school by the adults in his life because they were poor and had no money,” Tavares said. “And from that point on in his life, he has basically worked labor cash jobs because he is hardworking. Physically, he is very strong. And that is all he has known his entire life.”
Tavares said Grammer got the bogus bill from a woman “he thought was potentially going to be a girlfriend.”
“She gave him money and he went to 7-Eleven. … When he handed the $100 bill to the cashier, he stood there. … And when she marked the bill and told him something didn’t look right, he didn’t walk out the door.”
“If I was handed this bill, I would’ve used it as well,” Tavares added. “And I represented this to the court many times during pretrial conferences.”
Grammer told the judge that he had taken literacy courses while in prison.
“Are you able to read at all?” Hara asked.
“Some, very little, very poorly, but I can read,” Grammer replied. He told the judge he wants “to be a better person,” is tired of prison, wants to start his own business and wants to take care of his mother, who has cancer.
“I’m very troubled by your criminal past and the fact that you were only out a few months before you started getting into trouble again,” the judge said. “What are you going to do to prevent that from happening if you get probation?”
“Get a job, be clean and be good,” Grammer said.
Hara told Grammer he believes “old dogs can learn new tricks and you have a lot of new tricks to learn.”
“While you’re on probation, you’re going to have to forget what you learned about being a criminal,” he said.
Burns said the plea deal was “a fair offer to argue sentencing.”
“In that way, we’re not committed to agreeing to probation and it’s basically up to the judge in the end,” he said. “We can make our arguments for prison; they can make their arguments for probation. It can go either way.”
“I think the judge has all the facts in front of him, so he’s going to make the decision on his own,” Roth said.
Tavares said she wasn’t surprised by the sentence.
“I think that there are a lot of times when the judges do see someone who has value and potential, and sometimes they’re going out on a limb to do it, but I think in this case it was appropriate,” she said.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.