Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What Ever Became Of Common Sense?

      While we Americans may not be the most prudish people on earth, recent news stories indicate that we have gone far beyond the “tsk, tsk“ stage of disapproval of some forms of behavior. Legislatures, school districts and law enforcement officials have been very active in trying to curb inappropriate or dangerous behavior. Unfortunately, there have been cases which, while punishable under the letter of the regulations, seem to be way outside its spirit. Let me give you a few examples:

1.) School officials in Washington County, Maryland have written up a student for sexually harassing a little girl by pinching her buttocks. He was five years of age – she was four. The boy's father, who received a written notice about the incident, said he's at a loss to explain to his son what sexual harassment means.

"He knows nothing about sex," the father said. "There's no way to explain what he's been written up for. He knows it as playing around. He doesn't know it as anything sexual at all."

The incident report will remain in the boy’s file until he reaches middle school. Maryland records report that 15 kindergarten students were suspended for sexual harassment in 2005. Don’t play “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” in Maryland.

2.) School administrators in Waco, Texas, recently gave a 4-year-old pre-kindergarten student an in-school suspension for allegedly rubbing his face in the chest of a female teacher's aide while hugging her.

After the boy's father filed a complaint with school officials, they changed the report language to "inappropriate physical contact," removing references to sexual contact and sexual harassment.

3.) They were neighbors, aged 13 and 10, who played together in a toy fort at the older boy's home. But one summer afternoon, the teen began talking about masturbation, then performed oral sex on the younger boy. He said they should do it again the next day. And they did.

Soon after, two sheriff's deputies arrived at the adolescent's Eastside home to read the seventh-grader his rights. Within two months, he was a registered sex offender, convicted of first-degree child rape. He is now 23, and cannot become a doctor, teacher, coach or any other professional who has contact with children. He has never committed any other sexual offense.

4.) Utah Supreme Court justices acknowledged that they were struggling to wrap their minds around the concept that a 13-year-old girl could be both an offender and a victim for the same act - in this case, having consensual sex with her 12-year-old boyfriend.

The Ogden, Utah, girl was put in this odd position because she was found guilty of violating a state law that prohibits sex with someone under age 14. She also was the victim in the case against her boyfriend, who was found guilty of the same violation by engaging in sexual activity with her.

"The only thing that comes close to this is dueling," said Associate Chief Justice Michael Wilkins, noting that two people who take 20 paces and then shoot could each be considered both victim and offender.

5.) Last year, a Cincinnati public schools kindergartner went to the nurse's office with a scraped knee and ended up getting suspended and nearly expelled, according to the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. Legal Aid lawyers say the girl was left alone in the nurse's office, where she found a bottle that resembled her mother's perfume and sprayed it. It turned out to be pepper spray.

The fire department was called, and the school sent the girl home. It also recommended expulsion for up to 80 days in accordance with the district's zero-tolerance policy regarding possession of a weapon, Legal Aid lawyer Elaine Fink says.

      The prosecutorial zeal also runs to adult cases, as illustrated by the following story out of Boulder, Colorado:
6.) BOULDER, Colo. - This city has always taken pride in its liberal-to-the-point-of-loony reputation. But this Halloween (2009), one of its wackiest traditions is under siege: the Naked Pumpkin Run.

The event is exactly what its name implies. Scores of men and women pour into downtown streets for a late-night jog, wearing not a stitch between the jack-o'-lanterns on their heads and the sneakers on their feet.

For nearly a decade, naked pumpkin runners did their thing unmolested, stampeding through the frigid dark past crowds of admirers who hooted, hollered and tossed candy. But last year the run attracted more than 150 participants, and Police Chief Mark Beckner fears things are getting out of hand. "It's a free-for-all," he says. So he intends to stop it.

He will station more than 40 officers on the traditional four-block route tonight, with two SWAT teams patrolling nearby. All have orders to arrest gourd-topped streakers as sex offenders.

Police acknowledge they have not been flooded with pumpkin-run-related complaints, but say that's beside the point. A throng of naked people with jack-o-lanterns on their heads is, by definition, an alarming sight, Chief Beckner says. Therefore, it's illegal.

Those convicted of indecent exposure rarely get jail time, but they must register as sex offenders, just as rapists do. Which seems a bit excessive to Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett.

"A lot of times," he says with a sigh, "these people are just being idiots."

Still, Mr. Garnett says he will back up the police, adding, "We will take the cases they give us."

      Are these cases of overkill? I think so. Are they unusual? Not in the least. Check it out on line.
      I agree that sexual offenders should be punished, for life in egregious cases. But for cases of childhood naivety there has to be some wiggle room for judges. Unless a minor commits a heinous crime, in which case he could be tried as an adult, I think his record should be sealed when he reaches the age of 18, just as in any non-sexual crime.
      What do you think? Let’s have some comments.

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