When I was a kid, we had a thing called “show and tell” in which you could bring in something you thought was “cool” to show the class and maybe play with when the teacher was not looking. It was fun. For some reason, it never occurred to me to bring a weapon in to play with.
I guess times have changed.
Back then, I suppose, if I had brought some weapon in, my parents would have been called and I might be suspended. Today, though, it is the police who are called and it can mean incarceration.
Take a certain 14-year-old student (hereinafter, “Defendant 1”) at Silver Lake Regional Middle School in Kingston, Massachusetts, for example. A pellet gun was found in his locker, according to the Patriot Ledger.
On Thursday morning, a school staffer found the gun in a plastic bag. Police were called to the school, and Defendant 1 was arrested. Police said that the juvenile showed the gun to other students, which is how it the staff became aware of it.
14-year- old Defendant 1 was charged with carrying a weapon on school grounds and disturbing a school.
Let’s turn to 17-year old Walter W. (hereinafter, “Defendant 2”) at Boston’s English High School then. On Friday, after he was caught with a loaded gun inside the school, he got a field trip to West Roxbury District Court where he was held on $100,000 bail.
Defendant 2 faces charges of unlawful possession of a firearm, unlawful possession of ammunition, unlawfully carrying a loaded handgun, unlawfully carrying a firearm in a school, trespassing, and, naturally, resisting arrest. Yes, there is a juvenile branch of the “Hey, I’ll Bet I Can Make This Situation Worse Club”.
“The defendant had a cocked and loaded 9 mm handgun inside a school,” presented the Commonwealth at arraignment. “With rounds in the chamber and the magazine, it presented an extremely dangerous situation in a building full of innocents.”
Defendant 2 and four other teens were arraigned in connection with the incident at English High Thursday after they entered the school and got into a fight with students there. None of the teens arrested attend the school.
Prosecutors said one of the teens, Damien O., 17, (hereinafter, “Defendant 3”), let Defendant 2 , and three other youths, ages ranging from 13 -17, into a side door of the building.
Defendant 2 was arrested after a struggle, police said, but the other teens fled and were apprehended later. Officers said they seized a distinctive black, gray and red backpack that Defendant 2 had been wearing and found a Sturm, Ruger & Co. P95DC handgun with its hammer in the cocked position and rounds in its magazine and its chamber.
“This isn’t just a school case or a Boston case,” the District Attorney said. “A case like this should be chilling to every parent and every person in the Commonwealth who cares for children’s safety, no matter where those children live or go to school.”
It certainly isn’t just Boston and it is not just guns, either. On November, 20th, a schoolyard fight over a young lady in Framingham ended with a 15-year-old (hereinafter, “Defendant 4”) stabbing a 16-year-old schoolmate. The police say that the victim was taken by a MedFlight helicopter to Boston Medical Center. The wound, in the back, just above the buttocks did not appear to be life-threatening.
The victim was among four students fighting after the dismissal of school at about 2:15 p.m. Defendant 4, who was not part of that fight, walked up and stabbed the other teen, police Lieutenant Paul Shastany said.
Defendant 4 was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault with intent to kill, disorderly conduct, and disturbing a school assembly. His 16-year-old brother, who was part of the original fight, was charged with disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace. Police did not release their names because they are juveniles.
As most of us know, the landscape of school violence changed several years ago after the tragic massacre at Columbine High School. However, that atrocity did not appear from out of a vacuum. Even before that, metal detectors had been posted at various school entrances, particularly in large cities.
Simply put, the more violence in our society, the more weapons started appearing at school…and being used there.
Today, “kid gloves” are not used in instances involving weapons and violence in the school. It is considered too dangerous. Therefore, like the adult counterparts, if a youth gets into some kind of violent trouble at school, the courts are likely to become involved. True, if the perceived perpetrator is a juvenile, the forum is likely to be Juvenile Court. But it is still court and it can still mean incarceration, albeit usually with the Department of Youth Services instead of the Department of Corrections.
There are cases in which a juvenile can be prosecuted as if he/she were an adult. This involves crimes of violence.
The juvenile justice system differs somewhat from the adult justice system. For example, the focus is more on rehabilitation, incarceration is with the DYS and the record becomes sealed when the defendant becomes an adult.
Let’s be clear on what “sealed” means. It is not the same as “erased”. It is merely not discoverable by most people. It will still remain discoverable by law enforcement and the courts.
I have handled a variety of juvenile cases where the parents are under the mistaken belief that the prosecution will be a “good lesson” and should not be treated seriously. True, it can be a “good lesson”, if that kind of lesson is unfortunately needed. It is a big deal, though, and needs to be treated seriously. In such cases, it is not only the defendant’s present circumstances at stake. What happens and what the juvenile takes out of it can effect the rest of his or her life.
The bottom line here? If you are aware that a youth is being investigated or is being prosecuted, it should be viewed as seriously as any other prosecution. Consult an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so that the matter is handled appropriately.
Samuel Goldberg is the senior criminal defense attorney at the firm of Altman & Altman, LLP. A former prosecutor in New York, he has worked as a Boston defense attorney over 18 years. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network.
The full articles of this story can be found at http://www.thebostonchannel.com/news/18034183/detail.html, http://www.thebostonchannel.com/news/18032136/detail.html , and http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2008/11/21/teen_stabbed_on_steps_of_framingham_high/