This article originally appeared in the US~Observer.
THE DALLES, Ore. — Armando Garcia’s last year of high school was abruptly put on hold for what could have been his last year of freedom. Instead of the little things most teenagers stress about, like what to wear tomorrow or studying for a test, Armando was facing myriad stacked rape charges — all while not being allowed to attend his senior year of high school. Why? His ex-girlfriend accused him of rape shortly after her parents found out vivid details about their intimate relationship via Facebook.
Armando’s innocence was easy to prove — especially given the mountain of evidence in his favor. But the evident things in life do not initially matter in a courtroom. His ex-girlfriend, her parents (her father is a sheriff’s deputy) and the prosecution pursued the freedom of young Armando at all costs. All that was needed was an accusation. That’s it. There is no more innocent until proven guilty — technically. Today’s court’s put the burden of proof upon the defendant, despite what the Constitution says. The Constitution is a valid argument, but it gets you almost nowhere in a court of law today. The courts have police power, and that is all that is needed.
Fortunately for Armando, he found the right support system. He is truly one in a million, literally. Imagine for a moment that you are a minority in a small, rural Oregon community. Now, imagine you are accused of raping a Caucasian female who is two years younger than you. Her father is in law enforcement. You are charged with rape, based solely on one person’s word. Next, you are forbidden from attending school and told, “You won’t be allowed to return until your case is resolved.” Armando was pretty much told: “Go prove you are innocent. Then you can return to a normal life.”
The charges were brought against Armando after his junior year of high school and lasted throughout what would have been his senior year, continuing through what would have been his first summer as a high school graduate.
Not succumbing to the pressure that could have easily ruined his life, Armando stated that he “stayed positive.”
Armando continued, “Towards the end of it all, I was tempted to take the last plea deal (numerous plea deals were offered) because I was so tired of everything. Knowing that I didn’t do it, I fought it all the way to the end.”
On Aug. 27, Armando was found not guilty. Finally, he could focus on moving past this traumatic life experience. Witnesses, Facebook messages, intense planning by his attorney and a full investigative report and article by the US~Observer worked. Armando was now officially a free man. Or was he?
His case was resolved. He was found not guilty. But was he really vindicated? No. Unfortunately, people like Armando still have a record — even after they are found innocent. Again, the burden of erasing his record was Armando’s responsibility. In essence, Armando was still a target for future abuse. His arrest and charges would have remained on his record, despite his being found innocent. Attorney James Leuenberger successfully defended Armando and subsequently filed documents to expunge Armando’s record. Finally, in October, the existence of his ever being arrested and charged with rape was finally dissolved.
Armando stated that he, “really appreciates” what the US~Observer did for him. “Not many would’ve been on the side of someone who was being accused of such charges. People tend to think because someone is charged… that they did it and sadly that’s just humanity’s view on things.”
Armando was allowed to finish his senior year of high school — one year late.
On Saturday, June 7, Armando graduated high school. He is finally moving on with life.
He has no grudges against his accuser, Kelsey Floyd, or her family. Armando stated that he thought “she was scared… The information was found out by Kelsey’s family and she could have reacted out of fear. This was her first relationship with sexual intercourse.”Obviously, her father being a deputy probably didn’t help his situation.
Armando was very forgiving and understanding, considering what he endured.
Giving advice to others who may be in a similar situation, Armando said, “Try not to worry. I had a 50/50 chance of going to jail. I stayed positive. Don’t lose hope and don’t forget that you didn’t do it.”
Today, Armando plans on “working for now and hopefully starting college in the fall with future plans of majoring in psychology.”
Life after not guilty is something Armando will proudly carry on his shoulders. Fortunately for this young man, he has freedom on his side. His mentality is that of someone carrying a cup “half-full, not half-empty.”
How many others like Armando have been falsely charged with sex crimes? How many of them didn’t find the right support system? Although Armando wasn’t facing life in prison, he would have had a lifelong sentence had he been convicted. He would have been required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. In our society, that is a lifetime sentence.
If you or anyone you know have been falsely charged or convicted of a crime, contact the US~Observer immediately at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-474-7885. Time is not on your side.