By Johnny Kaufmann | WABE | June 4, 2018
Some have called teen Dayonn Davis’ sentence for stealing a pair of shoes harsh. According to Georgia law, it could have been longer. The inflexibility of state law for individuals charged with some violent crimes, even if the individual is as young as 13, may have affected Davis’ plea deal.
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Dayonn Davis was set to graduate from high school in Columbus, said his lawyer Susan Henderson, but now he’s going to prison.
“He is a good kid that made a really dumb 15-year-old mistake,” she said.
Davis was sentenced to five years in prison and 10 years of probation for stealing a pair of black and white Nike Air Jordan Fives from an acquaintance, according to his lawyer.
The shoes, nicknamed “Oreos,” were valued at $180.
A handgun was brought to the robbery, but Henderson argues Davis didn’t know it would be there. Davis’ lawyer said an accomplice, who was later arrested but not charged, brought the weapon.
Sadhana Dailey, senior assistant district attorney for the Muscogee County Superior Court, contends Davis could have killed the acquaintance he stole the shoes from.
“The fact that these robbers were willing to shoot the victim for shoes shows their callousness to another teen’s life and is a danger to anyone who has an item that this defendant or his accomplice wants,” Dailey said in a written statement.
Davis was charged with armed robbery.
“That’s really when his grades started dropping,” Henderson said. “He became very depressed. I mean, he owns up to the fact that he made a mistake. He has done that from the beginning with me.”
Davis’ sentence has been called harsh. According to Georgia law, it could have been even longer, and without a chance for parole.
The inflexibility of state law for individuals charged with some violent crimes, even if the individual is as young as 13, may have affected the plea deal negotiated between Davis’ lawyers and the prosecutor in the case, criminal justice reform advocates said.
In Georgia, if juveniles are charged with armed robbery, they’re tried as adults and face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
That worried Henderson, who said she wasn’t sure she could win a trial proving Davis didn’t know a gun would be brought to the scene of the robbery.
So, after negotiations between his lawyer and prosecutor Dailey, Davis ultimately pleaded guilty to just robbery. The sentence comes with five years in jail, and the possibility of parole, as well as 10 years of probation.
Henderson said it was a difficult decision for her, Davis and his family.
“To say I won’t second guess that one for the rest of my career is putting it minimally,” Henderson said. “He was a good kid … he’d never been in any trouble prior to this.”
With the possibility of years in prison looming, even if they’re innocent, defendants may feel pressure to take a plea deal, according to Christopher Bruce, policy counsel for the ACLU of Georgia.
“Mandatory minimums make sure prosecutors have the upper-hand when it comes to plea agreements,” he said.
The “harsh” sentence against Davis isn’t an “outlier” in Georgia, said Bruce, especially for young black men.
“We need to look deep in ourselves and determine, should we continue to jail and imprison children, or should we give them the help that they need to be productive citizens of society,” he said.
The felony on Davis’ record, and the records of other young men in similar situations, will make it more difficult for them to get a job or attend college, Bruce said.
“You are literally limiting the ability of someone to survive in the state once you charge them with something, especially at such a young age.”
But DA Dailey focused on the victim of the robbery.
“The teen victim could have been killed,” she said. “Young people are capable of killing for as little as shoes.”