Returning home from work at a fast-food restaurant in Columbia on a cold night in February 2000, Oscar Antonio Lopez-Sanchez was shot in the back and paralyzed.
But when a Howard County court considered restitution, the Salvadoran immigrant was not told about an agreement between prosecutors and the lawyers for the 16-year-old shooter until after it was a done deal. When he filed appeals saying that he should have been told in advance so that he could request a court hearing and argue for the maximum $10,000 in restitution, he was turned down by the courts, including the Maryland Court of Appeals last summer.
This week, nearly six years to the day that he was shot, a wheelchair-bound Lopez-Sanchez, now 28, wiped his eyes and asked the House Judiciary Committee to look favorably on a bill that would allow victims of juvenile violence to seek court permission to appeal denial of their rights.
"I agree that the law has been very unfair with me," he said in Spanish through an interpreter.
He later continued, "I would like you to change the law. I know it will not help me now, but it will help other people later in the future."
Victims' rights groups are supporting the bill, saying that the high court's ruling gutted the rights of all victims of juvenile crime.
The Office of the Public Defender opposes the bill, saying that creating a way for victims of juvenile violence to appeal "ignores and erodes" the differences between adult court, which punishes offenders, and juvenile court.
"The purpose of juvenile disposition is to rehabilitate the child as part of serving the public interest, not to vindicate the victim or to make the victim whole," the public defender's office said in written testimony.
Civil lawsuits are a better way to evaluate those victims' injuries and damages, the office contends.
The bill -- introduced by Lopez-Sanchez' pro-bono lawyer, Del. Neil F. Quinter of Howard County -- takes the Court of Appeals at its word. The right of a victim of juvenile crime to ask permission to appeal "must originate from the General Assembly," the top court ruled.
Crime victims are not considered parties in their cases. How to handle juvenile matters is up to prosecutors, not victims, the court said.
State law, however, allows victims of violent crime to seek court permission to appeal orders in criminal cases.
But by law, Lopez-Sanchez was not a victim of violent crime, which is committed by an adult. Rather, he was the victim of a delinquent act committed by a juvenile.
That left him with no way to protest what a concurring opinion by two Court of Appeals judges said was his exclusion from the court process, even though he was wrongly left out.
With no way to correct lapses -- intentional or not -- the rights of victims of juvenile attacks are "paper promises," said Russell P. Butler, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center, the largest victim advocacy organization in Maryland.
"Where there is a right, there is a remedy. Where is Antonio's remedy?" he said.
Lopez-Sanchez missed the three-year statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit while his appeals were pending.
In an interview last fall with The Sun, Lopez-Sanchez said that as a child, he had hunted and fished to help feed the family. At 20, nearly illiterate in his native tongue, he left his impoverished rural home to work. He prided himself on independence, he said.
An undocumented kitchen worker in Columbia, he sent money home to his father, brother and four sisters, he said.
The shooting, which paralyzed him from the chest down, left him in pain and uncomfortably reliant on his uncle and others.
A little more than a year ago, he began working three days a week in the kitchen of another restaurant and taking English classes, he said. He also obtained legal status.
Quinter took Lopez-Sanchez's case for free before he was elected in 2002 as a Democrat to the House.
Despite filing a request to be notified of court proceedings, Lopez-Sanchez did not learn the case was over until a week after a judge signed off without a hearing on restitution of $4,427 for medical expenses, according to court records.
Nearly a year earlier, Lopez-Sanchez had documented more than $21,000 in lost wages, according to court records; lawyers for the youth argued nothing showed that the judge failed to consider it.
Lopez-Sanchez has received $25,000 from the state crime victims fund, but that covered expenses other than the lost wages, Quinter said.
After the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case last month, Quinter sponsored the legislation.
He rejected the idea that victims of juvenile crime could sue in civil court, saying victims would be unable to find lawyers to sue teenagers with little money in hopes of winning small judgments, and then pursue the money.
A similar bill failed several years ago, according to the Department of Legislative Services. But Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a co-sponsor of the current measure, said the bill has "a very good chance" of clearing both houses.