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PREPARING A CUSTODY DECLARATION

California woman appeal sentence for violating custody order

From the Journal Gazette.link

A woman said Monday she would appeal the felony conviction and probation sentence she received for taking her son from his Fort Wayne father’s home and not returning him.

An Allen County jury convicted Latonna Whitt, 28, of El Cajon, Calif., in October of a felony custody violation charge for taking her 10-year-old son July 3, 2005, for a weekend visit but failing to return him the following Sunday as scheduled.

Although the boy’s father tried to alert police immediately, he was referred to his attorney from the custody case, court records stated. In October 2005, the father learned Whitt had withdrawn their son from Fort Wayne Community Schools and enrolled him in a school in California, according to court documents.

The law, which makes violating a custody order a felony, isn’t used often because parents usually work out custody before it reaches court, prosecutors said.

Whitt faced up to three years in prison, but Allen Superior Judge Kenneth Scheibenberger ordered her to serve 1 1/2 years on probation as well as receive a psychological evaluation and follow court orders from the Family Division, which involves the custody agreements.

“You have a whole new set of rules to live by from probation,” he told her. “If you don’t, they will issue a revocation … and no one wants to see that happen.”

Whitt shook her head as Scheibenberger spoke, prompting him to ask why.

“I just don’t understand a lot of what’s going on right now,” she replied.

Though Whitt’s attorney had already filed an appeal regarding her conviction, Whitt told the judge again Monday she wanted to appeal.

According to records, a court order allowed Whitt to have weekend visits with her son but restricted her from removing him from Indiana. She was arrested in May. At trial, her attorney said Whitt thought the court order was temporary and allowed her to go to California with the child.

The boy now lives with his father who has custody.

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