Johnsons arraigned, trial set

Nicole and Melissa Johnson, both 17, will go to trial in March on charges of beating up South Kitsap High School classmate on Nov. 30.

The girls, who are not related, both rejected a plea agreement offered by the juvenile prosecutor’s office that would have allowed them to plead guilty to fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor. As a result, the prosecutor could decide to charge the two with third-degree assault, which is a felony offense.

The girls were arraigned Jan. 15.

In addition to the assault charge, Jennifer Irvine Forbes, the deputy prosecutor who has handled the case up to this point, said Nicole and Melissa may also be charged with harassment. Melissa could also be slapped with a charge of obstructing an officer, stemming from her alleged outburst of profanity and belligerent behavior when police attempted to arrest her.

However, “I’m not sure it rises to the level of a criminal offense,” Forbes said.

Nonetheless, the assault level changes do look likely to go through, she said. After a defendant rejects a plea agreement, standard procedure is to increase the number or severity of charges against them. If the charge is increased to a felony, and the girls are convicted, Forbes said it will seriously impact them, perhaps for the rest of their lives.

“Felonies have other consequences on a person’s record,” she said. “It bumps their offender score up quite a bit.”

The offender score is what guides sentencing decisions and can in some cases determine whether or not an offender is given jail time. Even though the girls are juveniles, a felony conviction could affect them after they become adults.

Forbes said judges are less likely to approve a request to seal a juvenile’s record if it contains felonies. If the felony conviction is not sealed, it could prohibit either girl from ever owning or possessing a firearm and might affect their ability to vote.

In addition, it would be counted as part of their adult offender scores, significantly impacting the sentence in any future crime either may be convicted of.

“A felony is much worse to have on your record,” Forbes said. “It has a much broader and longer reach.”

The girls are charged with attacking a 15-year-old classmate during lunch period at South Kitsap High School. Police reports claim they, along with Melissa’s sister and a mutual friend, hit and kicked the girl as she lay on the ground. The reports then allege that Melissa fought against being arrested, screaming and cursing while struggling with officers.

The two other girls allegedly involved in the attack were offered diversions, which allow them to avoid formal charges by performing a required amount of community service assignments. They have yet to make a decision whether or not to accept them.

The standard sentencing range for both Assault 4 and Assault 3 convictions is up to 30 days in jail, up to 12 months probation and up to 150 hours community service. The offender may also be asked to pay a fine of up to $500.

Nicole and Melissa will be tried together, although they have each been appointed their own attorneys. Neither attorney was available for comment.

Forbes said trying cases like this together is quite common. She said it wouldn’t make any sense to call the same witnesses twice to give the same testimony, since both girls were involved in the same incident.

“It’s a more efficient use of resources for the court — not to have to go through the same trial twice,” Forbes said.

The trial is set for March 6.

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