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The scandal at Maryland’s Judge Sylvania W. Woods Elementary School

Highly-rated Northern Virginia criminal defense lawyer on the Prince George's County school child pornography scandal

Feb 12, 2016 The scandal at Maryland’s Judge Sylvania W. Woods Elementary School

When I started as a public defender lawyer in 1991 in Prince George’s County, Maryland, then (and now late) District Court Judge Sylvania Woods was one of my favorite people in the courthouse. As a person, he was down to earth, folksy, without ego, and filled with colorfully realistic stories about his days as a police officer and in the military in World War II (he was African-American, and the military was still racist then.) As a judge, he tended to say “guilty” more often than several of his colleagues, but for sentencing he tended to be among the most favorable for defendants.

At some point, he was honored by becoming the namesake of the county’s Judge Sylvania W. Woods Elementary School. If he knew about this month’s child pornography filming scandal there, he would be rolling in his grave, to say the least.

School volunteer Deonte Lavell Carraway is not only charged with producing child pornography with students at the school building, but the local Fox television station interviewed him one or two days ago in the local jail, where he reportedly told the reporter “he did participate in the filming and directing of some of these videos.” That interview is going to make his lawyer’s work all the harder and the prosecutor’s work all the easier.

The Prince George’s County District Court online docketing system lists twelve sex offense counts against Mr. Carraway, including four counts of filming child pornography. The docket says Mr. Carraway was arrested on February 8, and is being held on a one million dollar bond, but as of February 12 does not list a lawyer for him.

Locked up on bond, he likely is eligible for public defender lawyer. Even if he plans to hire a private lawyer, Carraway should apply for and accept a public defender lawyer unless and until he hires a private lawyer. Of course, he may already have a lawyer and that update may not yet have made it to the online docket.

With charges as serious as this, the real risk remains that the prosecution will be transferred to the federal court, where penalties can be all the more severe.

Would I defend Mr. Carraway or others facing child pornography production charges? Yes as to this and any other criminal charge, and I have defended child pornography cases. For starters, as Publius Terence aptly said so long ago: Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto./I am human: nothing human is alien to me.Thich Nhat Hanh takes Publius Terrence a step further in his poem “Please Call Me by My True Names,” recognizing that but for his fortune in experience, resources, compassion and wisdom from an early age, he could have become the child raped by a pirate as well as the pirate who raped her, “my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.” Additional reasons for me not to reject any category of criminal defense is that  we have the presumption of innocence, and we have the need to have fair sentencing when sentencing occurs and to keep the criminal justice system honest.

The Prince George’s County school system has a mess on its hands with this case, including a lawsuit that already has been filed, questions about how this alleged rampant activity could have happened in the first place, and  the urgent need immediately fix the apparently lax hiring, monitoring and operating system that enabled this situation to happen in the first place.

Certainly, the school system needs better public relations for this shocking scandal and snowballing liability than the lame online parent letter found on the school’s website, together with the school’s already-effected temporary removal of its principal.

As an aside, it is curious, and perhaps a school administration oversight, that this public school obligated to follow the First Amendment’s mandate to separate church and state counters the First Amendment in raising Christianity in its brief biography of Judge Woods, by saying on its website that Judge Woods “was one of seven siblings born to Andrew and Cora Woods. Their Christian home was the foundation on which he built his philosophy of respect, education, pride, humility, and honesty.”

Despite Mr. Carraway’s alleged admission of culpability to the local reporter, he remains entitled to the presumption of innocence unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in his criminal case. Where, though, will he find an impartial jury after all the incendiary publicity that has saturated the airwaves in only a matter of days alone?

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