On Tuesday, more than 15 months after a charge of exploitation of a vulnerable adult was filed against a 50-year-old accused of stealing from an elderly woman she was supposedly helping care for, and on the day testimony was set to begin in her trial, prosecutors asked for the charge to be dropped.
Because the charge was dismissed with prejudice, that means Sandra Steinberg cannot be re-charged later.
The dismissal raises a host of questions, the most pressing of which is: What happened?
Nathan Madden, the assistant state’s attorney who was prosecuting the case, said that on Monday evening, after a jury had been selected and opening arguments made, he got new information that meant the prosecution couldn’t continue. He said he couldn’t speak to what that information was.
Kevin Chapman, Steinberg’s defense attorney, said the dismissal was because the prosecution realized it couldn’t prove that the elderly woman in the case met the legal definition of a vulnerable adult.
Chapman made a similar claim during his opening argument. That question will remain unresolved for now, though, because the dismissal of the charge means the trial stopped before a single witness testified.
Without an answer from the Williams County State’s Attorney’s Office, the public is left wondering.
If, as Chapman claims, the woman didn’t meet the legal standard for a vulnerable adult, why did it take 468 days to determine that? Shouldn’t the prosecution have been certain that the woman met the standard before filing charges in the first place?
Cases involving allegations of financial wrongdoing are often complex and the investigations can continue even after charges are filed. If Chapman is correct, though, the question isn’t one of financial complexities but, rather, whether the basic facts of the case match up with the appropriate law.
If there was some other reason, what was it, and why did it take so long to uncover?
The dismissal of a case during a trial — even at the request of the prosecution and not the defense — is not a good sign.
In this case it means one of two things: potential victims were denied their day in court because the investigation failed to turn up an important detail or a woman was charged with a crime before prosecutors could actually marshal the evidence to prove their case.
Neither is acceptable.