Feb. 13, 2012
The parents of two underage girls who got body piercings at a Delaware tattoo shop last month didn’t intend to have their daughters end up in juvenile court on unruliness charges.
Among the thousands of unruliness cases filed statewide last year, that’s unusual, say prosecutors and court officials. Almost always, the filings are prompted by frustrated parents who ask the court to charge their son or daughter so they can get some help.
“It’s a call for help from the parents in the simplest form,” said Scott Saeger, director of the juvenile-intake division at the Franklin County prosecutor’s office.
An unruly child is defined as a child who doesn’t obey parents, teachers or guardians; who is habitually truant; who endangers his or her own health or morals; or who violates a law. The child could have problems making curfew, attending school, running away from home or just breaking rules, either at home or at school.
“Unruliness doesn’t allow for jail time, it doesn’t allow arrests,” Saeger said. “It’s not a very big stick, for lack of a better explanation.”
The parent might simply be looking for the court to order children’s services involvement or counseling. At the very least, it could be a request to threaten their kids in the hope that they get their acts together.
Statewide in 2010, the most-recent figure available, 15,400 unruly cases were filed in juvenile courts, nearly 1,700 of which were in central Ohio. Franklin County had the bulk of cases, with nearly 1,300.
Saeger said his staff has someone on the calendar every day asking for unruliness or criminal charges to be filed against a child. Usually, the courts can work with the parents to figure out an alternative to facing a judge.
The difference between an unruliness charge and the more-severe delinquency charge is whether a crime was committed, said Delaware County Juvenile Court Judge Kenneth Spicer. If the child vandalizes something, or is threatening or abusing his parents, criminal charges could be filed.
Adults can’t be charged with unruliness. They can, however, be charged with contributing to the unruliness of a minor. That’s what Jason Parks, the man accused of piercing the two Delaware girls, was charged with this month.
More than 6,500 adults were charged in juvenile courts statewide in 2010. In central Ohio, there were 286 such cases.
Charges against adults could entail drinking with an underage child or helping a child sneak out of the house. In Parks’ case, he’s accused of piercing the 12-year-old’s tongue and the 14-year-old’s bellybutton, aiding them in disobeying their parents.
Parks could receive jail time for the offenses, up to six months and a $1,000 fine for each for the first-degree misdemeanors.
He pleaded not guilty to two charges in Delaware Municipal Court of performing a procedure on a minor without consent of a parent or guardian, a fourth-degree misdemeanor, and one count of obstructing official business, a second-degree misdemeanor.
The two girls will avoid formal charges, said Kathy Sturman, of the Delaware County Juvenile Court’s intake-diversion office. As with most first-time offenders, they will come in for a diversion conference.
If they complete all terms of the diversion within 90 days, the charges will be dismissed and the record expunged.
Neither mother is thrilled with the court’s involvement after they went to the police to complain, as both girls already have faced discipline at home. But the Delaware County prosecutor’s office didn’t need the parents’ permission. They based their decision on the police report that said the girls got pierced and violated the unruly statute.
The mother of the 14-year-old said her daughter disobeyed her and was definitely defiant.
“But a lot of kids are defiant,” she said.
“If every child had unruliness charges filed against him or her every time they defied their parents, every child in the city would have charges against them.”