A Palmer Park woman, threatened with the loss of her house in restitution for her son's purse snatching, has saved the dwelling by surrendering $4,000 in cash in Prince George's County circuit court.
The circuit court ordered the woman to pay back the $3,900 her son stole, plus court costs or face losing her home.
The judgment was apparently the first of its kind issued in the county since last September, when the state's attorney's office took steps to force parents to make restitution for property stolen or damaged by their children.
Elias Silverstein, head of the juvenile division in the state's attorney's office had then asked prosecutors to seek court judgments placing liens on the property of parents who ignore restitutions orders.
Under a Maryland Law, revised two years ago, parents can be held liable for up to $5,000 in losses or damages caused by their children. Before the revision, parents were responsible for a maximum of $1,000 in damages.
The case began last January, when Sarah Rice of Palmer Park, with $3,900 cash in her purse, left a bank to make a payment to a funeral director. Forgetting something at home, she drove to her house and left the purse in her car while she went inside. When she returned, the purse was gone.
Last June, the accused youth was "found involved" in the theft, and later agreed to make restitution, according to authorities. Subsequently, however, authorities said, the youth's mother asked for a hearing and in October appeared before Prince George's County Circuit Court Judge Vincent Femia.
Femia said the mother told him she did not question her son when he came home and presented her with a new automobile. Femia said the mother told him, "I always accept my son's gifts."
Femia said he issued a judgment in Rice's favor totaling $4,034.31, which in effect, placed a lien on the mother's house.
Femia said he explained to Rice, "That means if you want to sell her house, you can. Go get yourself a lawyer."
The woman consulted a lawyer, Kenneth L. Boehm, who took steps to sell the house in early May. On May 23 the juvenile's mother came to court made restitution in cash. Rice is expected to receive the money today.
She said it would come at a good time. "I'm going to have some dental work done. And now I can take my sink off the floor and get it fixed."
Rice said she had almost abandoned hope of being repaid. "I was beginning to give up," she said.
Boehm said that restitution was seldom paid before the new "get tough" policy was adopted in the Prince George's county juvenile courts and before last year's amendment.
"It wasn't worth it to collect on $1,000," said William Haskell, who worked with Boehm on the case. "It was too much trouble," he said.
"A lot of people don't realize that parents are liable for their kids," said Femia. "But they're going to watch their kids if it involves their pocketbooks he said.
"This is going to show people that when junior does a little shoplifting or burglary, they can lose their home," he added.