Published May 29, 2012
A 17-year-old Houston honor student jailed 24 hours for missing too much school likely spent the night surrounded by "every type of criminal that exists," one Houston defense attorney said.
Diane Tran, an 11th-grade honor student at Willis High School near Houston, was sent to jail for 24 hours last Wednesday by Judge Lanny Moriarty and ordered to pay a $100 fine for excessive truancy.
It’s unclear how many days Tran missed, but state law reportedly permits only 10 absences in a six-month period.
Tran, who works full-time at a dry-cleaning business and part-time for a wedding planner, has been supporting her brother and sister since her parents separated and her mother moved away.
Houston defense attorney Ned Barnett on Tuesday called the ruling "outrageous" and said "a little discretion should have been used" in the teenager's case.
"It doesn’t take much discretion to have sympathy for Miss Tran," Barnett said. "To lock her up is just outrageous."
Barnett, who is not defending Tran, said the girl likely spent her 24-hour jail sentence at Montgomery County Jail surrounded by suspected murderers, drug addicts and prostitutes.
"It's hard-core," he said of the jail, noting that past clients whom he has defended described it as "the worst experience of their life."
Tran, who is considered an adult under Texas state law, was issued a summons last Wednesday for truancy after she missed classes. She was arrested in open court and ordered to spend 24 hours at the jail for truancy, which is considered a misdemeanor. The ruling came after the teenager was issued a warning by a judge last month about her absences.
Judge Moriarty told KHOU 11 News that he intended to make an example of Tran by placing her in jail.
"If you let one run loose, what are you going to do with the rest of them? Let them go, too?" Moriarty told the station.
Mary Elliot, owner of Vineyards of Waverly Manor, where Tran works, told FoxNews.com that Tran is a "straight-A student" and "exceptionally good kid" who takes college-level courses and has a strong work ethic. Elliot said the teenager should never have been arrested and forced to spend the night in jail.
"Her family has taught her a good work ethic," Elliot said. "Her brother was No. 8 in his class. She wants to do better than that."
"We need to change what they do to these kids in the school," she said. "They need to look at their records instead of just judge them as bad kids."
E. Tay Bond, a well-known Houston defense attorney, said the judge likely had no discretion to avert a jail sentence.
"There's no legal exception that I’m aware of that if you're an honors student, you’re allowed to exceed a maximum number of unexcused days under the Texas Compulsory Education Laws," Bond told FoxNews.com. "Twenty-four hours would be about the minimum period of confinement to make a point.
"I think the public policy of making kids attend school is necessary and 24 hours in jail would be pretty minimal and should get the point across," he said.
Since the girl's story went viral, hundreds of people have rallied to raise money for the teen. One group, called the Louisiana Children's Education Alliance, set up a website named helpdianetran.com that reported it had raised nearly $40,000 for the girl.
Houston Councilman Al Hoang said what he worries about most is Tran's record.
"I’m going to ask the judge to expunge the record," Hoang told FoxNews.com. "The truancy laws should be applied case by case and in this case, it should not be applied. I believe Judge Moriarty should have used his discretionary power to excuse her from this matter."
FoxNews.com's Cristina Corbin contributed to this report.