Teen defends self, wins case

By Philippe Djegal - email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email

QUITMAN, TX (KLTV) - A teen charged with possession of tobacco after a traffic stop represented himself in court and was acquitted due to a hung jury.

Travis Owens, 15, and two friends were driving to a friend's house just past 11:30pm on March 17 when they were pulled over by a Quitman police officer. Travis was sitting in the back seat of the pickup, and dash cam video shows him and his friends standing aside as the officer proceeded to search the car and found several lit cigarettes.

"The driver said that [they] were his cigarettes," said Misty Spenc, Travis' mother. "He just purchased them an hour earlier."

The driver was 18 years old, but Travis and his other friend are minors. Travis admitted to taking a drag of the cigarette but claims that he didn't inhale. He added that the cigarettes were not his.

The officer didn't believe him and cited both minors for possession of a tobacco substance.

"I don't find that right at all because I wasn't going to smoke and I didn't smoke," said Travis. "But, I admitted to smoking because I was scared."

Spenc told her son to fight his case in court.

"I was like, 'Well, he is a minor,'" she said. "'I'm going to represent him then.' And, they told me, 'No, you cannot do that. You're not the one being charged. He has to do it himself.'"

"[It was] definitely a new experience," said Travis. "When you got to get on stage and defend yourself against the State of Texas, that's pretty big.

"I pretty much used some like NCIS stuff and started thinking. But I think I did pretty good."

Spenc says the court crossed the line. "My deal is, if you can make a minor stand up in a court of law at 16, who's going to stop them from doing it to a 12-year-old?"

But the municipal prosecutor and Quitman City Attorney Jim McLeroy says the judge was just following the law.

"She had to attend with her son, because he's a juvenile," said McLeroy. "But, the law goes on to say that when in court, parents are not allowed to act in the role of the child's attorney, unless they're actually licensed."

After 2 1/2 hours in court, the jury deliberated, and 45 minutes later the jury was hung.

"He was not argumentative to Officer Barkley, he wasn't argumentative with the court, he wasn't argumentative to the jury, but he did a good job," said McLeroy.

"When the officer got on the stand, I questioned him," said Travis. "I said, 'Did you find anything on me that night? Any tobacco or anything?' And, he said, 'No, I didn't.' I'm like, 'All right, then, I don't know what else to say.'"

"We counted acquittals as wins and we counted hung juries as wins so, on that basis, he's one and zero," said McLeroy.

The City of Quitman still has the option to either retry the case or drop it. The prosecutor says it may be a few weeks until he decides whether or not to pursue another trial.

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