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Justice? You decide.

Last December 30, a young man who is very near and dear to our hearts and several of his teenage friends took some prescription medication that belonged to one of their parents. Of course they did not have permission from any adult to do this. Well...

The medication they took was not even a "get high" type drug… but at the time they took it they didn't actually know what it was. They just wanted to goof around and do something "cool"; have some "fun"; grab a cheap thrill by pretending that they were regular adults who routinely (from the teenage perspective) "get blasted" by taking prescription drugs.

I mean heck, you can’t turn on the TV without getting dunned by ads touting the benefits and pleasures of popping prescribed pills. So why not, they thought. I mean these weren’t “bad” drugs. They didn’t buy them on a street corner. These drugs came out of the family medicine cabinet and, like I said, these kids had been very well educated with the fact that adults take drugs like this all the time.

Thankfully the medication didn't actually do anything to any of them except make them a bit groggy and a little confused -- but being as how they are dumb teenagers, how would one recognize any difference?

However, one of the kids felt a little goofy and, feeling scared, confessed the act to a parent who went ballistic and without the benefit of contacting any of the other parents involved (thus NOT being a “good parent” by any standard I know) carted all the kids off to the hospital and called the police.

The folks at the hospital poked and prodded but, thankfully, found nothing wrong with anyone. The police (God bless them) recognized the incident for what it was -- an act of teenage stupidity. Dangerous, reckless, and disobedient... yes. But not willfully criminal nor purposefully malicious. More akin to a serious and potentially life threatening blunder; provocatively self-detrimental but certainly not a crime.

However, since the incident had been reported the officer had to file a report. The report came to the hands of an overzealous Juvenile Justice officer who decided that these kids needed the guiding hand of the State to set them straight. Thus the choice was made to have them all brought up on charges for "Possession of a Controlled Substance" which is a Class "C" Felony "drug related" crime.

To "help" (and this is the word the Juvenile officer used) all these children and their families become better citizens, the Juvenile Officer wanted each of them sentenced to 12 months of probation, a $250 fine, 40 hours of work service, 12 months of counseling, and enrollment in two State sanctioned behavior modification (aka: “brainwashing”) programs.

In addition to paying the fine but also wearing the guise of “help,” the families of these children would get the added benefits of taking time off work to chauffer the kids to and from the work service assignments, meetings with a probation officer, the brainwashing courses and weekly counseling sessions, plus get to pay out of pocket additional hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars for the benefit of participating in this mandated routine.

For example, while sitting in court the first time (the case I was paying attention to was “continued” twice before it actually came to trial), I observed the proceedings of a family whose eldest child had been caught in somewhat similar circumstances and heard the child’s father make a desperate plea. The father explained to the judge that he and his pregnant wife now owed the system in excess of $5000 in accumulated charges for their child’s participation in mandated “assistance” programs and, being as they were simple folks who were barely making ends meet, this “help” from the State was severely hurting their ability to provide nourishment and shelter for the rest of their family.

I wanted to cry.

Getting back to the “help” being offered by the State to redress the situation that held my attention... Because these 6 first-time teenage offenders had, in the eyes of the folks who wanted to throw their legal weight around, committed a "drug related crime," if the kids were convicted recent "drug war" legislation would override certain legal safeguards normally afforded to Juveniles. Thus the legal record of this teenage stupidity, which would generally be sealed and then expunged at the age of emancipation, would  carry severe life-long consequences.

What kind of consequences, well… for starters, if convicted all of these kids would be immediately ineligible to obtain any assistance in the form of grants, loans or publicly funded educational scholarships for a period of at least one year. And on top of that, even if they never again were accused of a crime, remained staunch law-abiders and went on to lead productive and meaningful lives, if some sort of god-awful tragedy should befall them 20 years from now and they found themselves needful to seek some sort of federal assistance such a Food Stamps or Public Housing, they would be exempt from the meager protection of these fundamental safeguards because, when they were teenagers, they had done this one stupid deed.

And I'm sorry for carrying on about this, but I am livid about the lunacy that was perpetrated upon the six families involved in this whole scenario. I’m also aghast over other cases I observed in court. In one, a child age 12 who was functionally illiterate and so doped up on prescribed medication as to be incoherent, was sentenced to what seemed to be cruel and overly harsh punishment because he threw a rock that damaged a car. Another child, slightly older but also “medicated” to the degree of appearing “drugged,” was subjected to even stiffer consequences because he verbally threatened another child at school.

Certainly this kind of aggressive behavior is unacceptable. Certainly the children must be disciplined and actions must be taken to get them on the right track. But in no way from what I heard had any of these kids done anything that could in any way be defined as a crime so serious that it should have involved police officers, legal council, days in court and the astronomically expensive encumbrances of State mandated “help.”

Thankfully, in the case that brought this whole thing to my attention, the ultimate outcome was sane but the costs for reaching this happy resolution were outrageous. For the family of the young man I’ve referenced, the cash outlay has far exceeded $1000 (attorney fees, gasoline to get to meetings and court, child care expenses for younger siblings so parents could attend these requisite obligations, etc.) and this amount attributes nothing to the huge amount of wages lost and time wasted time by all six families, not to mention the accumulated fees and salaries for six defense attorneys, half a dozen or more assorted officers of the court and, of course, the judge.

On everyone’s third visit to the Courthouse, when the whole thing finally got to trial, and after all the assorted parents and children and witnesses and attorneys sat in court an entire day waiting for the case --- the last one on the day’s docket --- to be heard mid-afternoon, the DPA moved to "null process" the action because no credible evidence existed to substantiate the criminal charge.

Thus in the blink of a legal-eagle eye, the whole thing was over. After nearly 6 months of ongoing interactions, everyone was free to walk away clean and put it all behind them. Theoretically, all the families were right back where they started with no real harm done… right???

Except that the young man we mentioned will, out of duty and obligation, have to work many hours to pay-off the debts his family accumulated in the process of defending his innocence instead of buying flowers for a girlfriend, fixing up the old car he’s wanting to drive or adding savings to his college fund.

And even considering the inclination to believe that all this might, at the very least, be a good character builder; a life lesson that may, in the long run, prevent a legitimate catastrophe from taking place, my personal opinion runs quite to the contrary. I do not see or believe that on any level any of this legitimately “helped” anyone. I am absolutely convinced that these children and families were done devastating harm from which arose absolutely no good.

I say this with authority because I am personally familiar with most of these kids and their parents. Thus I know that there is nothing that will ever expunge the very bad taste of injustice that clings in their mouths nor will anything ever eradicate from their minds the strong feeling that the State has undermined their parental authority and thus impeded their ability to discipline and instruct their own kids.

And please don’t get me wrong here. All the parents I spoke with affirmed that their kids did something wrong. They all agreed that their own child had behaved poorly and had done a very bad thing. None that I know of felt the act should have been taken lightly, but resolved to follow up with significant measures of discipline and institute serious consequences in the hopes that a repeat of such behavior would never happen again. However…

As a result of the State’s overreaction, outlandish response, and completely inappropriate desire to meddle in this affair which should have been handled entirely by the parents and children involved, the parents and children alike now feel completely alienated from the legal system which they did, prior to this happening, tend to believe in and trust.

They feel duped, betrayed, used and abused by a process run amok, victimized and raped by unfounded and rude allegations that cost them all dearly to disprove and then, in a capricious heartbeat, simply vanished because the State at long last came to its senses and realized what should have been obvious from the start… that there was no legal case to make.

Yet because the State made this great uproar and because the parents had to take extraordinary measures in their children’s defense and, in effect, take up the cause that the State was wrong and that the children (by logical conclusion) had not done anything to warrant serious intervention or punishment, the afterglow left on these impressionable, unworldly and immature teenage brains is that what they did must not have been such a bad thing after all because their parents so vehemently rose to their defense!

And of course the kids are wrong to draw such a conclusion. Just as wrong as they were to do what they did that started this whole thing. But that’s the point here… they are CHILDREN. They do NOT know any better. We are supposed to TEACH them to KNOW BETTER and we, as a “justice system” are FAILING to uphold this duty and shoulder this responsibility by implementing and maintaining a process of adjudication which models respect for ALL the parties involved.

So I’m challenging each of you reading this missive to take action. Research this subject for yourself. Talk to the parents of a juvenile who has been “helped” by OUR justice system. Discover the lay of the land and tell what you think. 

And if you find out I’m right… if after doing a bit of purposeful discovery you see the truth in the statements I’ve made, I challenge you to do something about it. Write a letter to your Congressman. Meet with the officers of your local court. Work together and work diligently for reforms that actually do “help” us ensure a better tomorrow because, when it comes to our children, tomorrow is all that they’ve got.

“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice. Do not accuse a man for no reason- when he has done you no harm. The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already.” (Compilation: Isaiah 10:1-2, Proverbs 3:29-30, I Corinthians 6:6-8)
 
 

 

That you may be filled with strength and power, rooted and grounded in love that surpasses all knowledge: Be kind to one another; live with compassion, producing every kind of goodness; stand firm and hold your ground in truth, righteousness and peace; be courageous; embrace faith which is perfect trust in justice. ~Ephesians 3-6 (condensed)