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Yes indeed, kids - you can be arrested for that

Teens are often unaware of crimes related to fire, pranks, alcohol, sex


After falsely reporting she had seen a fellow student with a gun sticking out of his waistband at Forest Grove High School, a 15-year-old girl was handcuffed, arrested and led out of the building Friday, Oct. 2, the day after a deadly mass shooting at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College.

The false report triggered a lockdown and created such a stir that many students left school for the day after the lockdown was lifted.

Police have charged the teenager with disorderly conduct and initiating a false report.

Initially she told investigators and her mother she hadn’t done anything wrong, but eventually her story unraveled and she confessed she had lied, said Forest Grove Police Department Capt. Mike Herb.

“I don’t think she probably had a good idea of the statutes she was violating,” said Herb.

This isn’t the first time a young person has been caught off guard when they find out their actions are not just morally wrong, but criminal as well. Behavior that might have been considered simply rambunctious or mischievous a generation ago is now often prosecuted in the courts.

When pranks draw police

Students used to call in threats all the time when Hillsboro attorney Jennifer Robins was in school — just to get out of class, she said. “But you can’t do that in this day and age. We have to be more responsible.”

Mary Bruington, head of the Juvenile Section at Metropolitan Public Defender in Hillsboro, has defended teens against criminal mischief charges for what seem like time-tested pranks such as egging someone’s house. At one time, these might have been considered “shenanigans” — the teen’s parents might have even told exciting tales of their own sophomoric escapades — but nowadays, if the “victim” objects, the system gets involved, Bruington said.

And unlike toilet-papering a house, eggs can cause stains or crack windows.

Such problems used to be solved neighbor to neighbor, Bruington said, with the culprits cleaning up the damage or doing chores as restitution — all well outside of the court system.

“The Washington County Juvenile Department does do a pretty good job of providing lower-level interventions that don’t involve the court,” she said, such as community service. But that’s usually for youth with no prior problems.

Anything involving fire is treated very seriously, Bruington said, citing an example of a boy who was trying to burn the edges of a piece of paper to make it look old. Already warned by his parents not to use fire, he lost control, burnt the whole paper and some carpet. He was charged with reckless burning.

Bruington knows of other fire-fascinated teens whose experiments with flame had no malicious intent, but who were charged with crimes anyway because they were near a building.

“I think it’s difficult for kids to think ahead,” she said.

Sex penalties serious

Herb shares that sentiment. “Generally speaking, kids don’t realize the consequences of their actions.”

That’s especially true when it comes to the use of modern technology. “It’s not like the days of the Polaroid,” Herb said.

Take sexting (sending naked or sexual images to another person), which is legal if it involves consenting adults, but a felony if the photographed person is under 18. Many teens don’t realize that.

Herb added that the FGPD currently has an open case that will result in the arrest of a teenager who somehow secured naked photos of peers and is sending them around.

One of the most serious crimes — with one of the most devastating penalties — involves what can seem like a normal, natural romance to the young people involved.

Herb has seen many students convicted of rape because sexual relations, even if they’re consensual, are illegal if at least one party is under 18 and the two people are more than three years apart. So if two members of a high school cross-country team — an 18-year-old senior and a 15-year-old freshman, for example — develop a relationship and have sex, the 18-year-old can be prosecuted and is required to register as a sex offender if convicted.

Often parents of younger girls don’t want their daughters dating a certain boy, Robins said, so they report him.

“There’s a difference between the classic definition of a pedophile and a young man who isn’t thinking straight,” she said.

Think before you drive

There’s a lot of responsibility that goes along with driving as well. Bruington once represented a boy charged with the unauthorized use of a vehicle — a felony — when he borrowed his parents’ car to drive to school after he missed the bus. Apparently they’d told him not to use their car.

And while most teens know about speeding tickets, they don’t usually worry about being charged with criminally negligent homicide, which is what will happen if they speed, crash and kill a passenger.

Then there’s Driving under the Influence of Intoxicants. Most drivers know a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher can get them a DUII. But if a minor is pulled over, even the smallest amount of alcohol — a small, parent-sanctioned glass of red wine, for example — can get them charged with a DUII, even if their blood alcohol content is as low as .01 percent. That’s because they’re minors.

They’ll also be saddled with a minor in possession (MIP) charge and their license can be suspended.

And while most teens know they can get an MIP for being at a party with alcohol, they don’t all know they can be charged with an MIP if an officer catches them intoxicated, even if they aren’t in possession of alcohol.

A few additional charges that surprise young people include using someone else’s ID to get into an establishment for people 21 or older, which could result in the charge of identity theft.

Riding the bus without a ticket is another common offense among teens, who can be charged with theft of services or interfering with public transportation, Bruington said.

FGHS Principal Karen O’Neill said students aren’t aware that finding a cell phone or wallet and not returning it is also illegal, as is pulling the fire alarm, fighting in school and harassing or “annoying” someone by phone.

“It’s good for all of us to be aware of the law,” Herb said. But if you’re not sure, follow your gut, he advised, which often lets you know when you’re doing something wrong, “even if people don’t know the statutes.”