San Francisco, CA — A disabled man who attempted to cash a stolen check was found not guilty after a jury determined he was the victim of a scam artist, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Lifelong San Francisco resident Jeffrey New, 62, was acquitted Tuesday of all charges following a one-day trial that included the testimony of a handwriting expert. The jury deliberated nearly six hours before reaching its verdict, said New’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Ariana Downing.
New faced a year in jail if convicted of the three misdemeanors presented to the jury: burglary, petty theft, and possession of a completed monetary document.
New’s legal saga began more than a year ago on March 26, 2010, when a man approached him on San Bruno Avenue and Bacon Street and asked him if he had identification and wanted to “make some money” by cashing a check for him.
The stranger picked New because the Vietnam veteran, who was mentally and physically disabled in a car accident, appeared vulnerable, Downing told the jury.
“He is very small and it’s apparent he is not a wealthy man. Half his face is paralyzed and his disability is apparent within moments of speaking with him,” Downing said.
New entered a nearby Bank of America and used his own identification to try to cash the check, Downing said. A computer notation informed the teller that the check’s owner had recently reported her checkbook lost. The teller called police, who arrested New.
During the trial, Downing called a handwriting expert who took several handwriting samples from New and confirmed the retiree did not write the check.
“Mr. New has severe dyslexia and can barely spell, much less fill out a check,” Downing said. “Ultimately, I think that it was obvious to the jury that Mr. New was a vulnerable person who went into the bank that day with an innocent intent.”
Under cross examination, police officers admitted they never asked New whether he believed the check was valid, which was relevant to determining New’s intentions when he attempted the transaction, Downing said.
Adachi said the jurors came to the right conclusion.
“Things aren’t always as they appear. In this case, it became clear that Mr. New was not the perpetrator of the scam but its victim,” Adachi said.