Juvenile crime is nonexistent in the state of Idaho.
Earlier this year, juveniles busted out vehicle windows at Dale’s Rescue Towing storage yard. Was anybody charged? Convicted?
In the Grangeville High School bomb hoax case, you won’t – officially — know who the suspect is, what the charge is, and how the case proceeded, whether there was a conviction or a dismissal.
Juvenile crime records are under lock and key, and Idahoans as a whole are losers in this deal, the result of a state supreme court rule that exempts these from disclosure.
This is not new. This rule, enacted by the Idaho Supreme Court, has been in effect for all juvenile correction act cases filed on or after July 1, 2017.
Prior to this, juvenile records in criminal cases were public record following the defendant’s appearance in court for an admit/deny hearing. Certain situations, judged case by case, allowed to petition these to remain closed, but otherwise, the default was juvenile records would be open.
What’s the big deal? “Everybody knows,” right?
At the least, these records provide public oversight into its court system and on how justice is administered. We’re not a banana republic or a star chamber; our judicial system does its work (or it should) in full public view.
Why, for example, is a charge dismissed or amended? The judge explains the deliberation behind this, and we better understand how justice is balanced with the needs of the individual and society; as a result, we gain confidence that — were we to stand before the bench — our case would receive due merit.
With juvenile records sealed, the public will fill in its view of who the perpetrator is or are, and gossip will (and has) replace facts. “Everyone knows at school” who did the bomb hoax, so it’s said, but is that true? Is that kid at the lunch table the one who did it? Or just a victim of malicious gossip? It’s one thing to be the perpetrator, but how does an innocent person clear him or herself in the absence of the facts?
What did that bomb hoax kid get? Well, he’s still walking around, so he must have beat the rap and stuck a finger in the judge’s eye. Who’s to say different?
In the absence of any information that any penalties were incurred due to his crime, there is no deterrence for juveniles in following up with similar crimes in the future.
And if you sit through enough court sentencings, one line you’ll hear repeatedly is one of the components of sentencing is the need for deterrence; seeing the penalties handed down for crimes helps deter those in society from committing similar acts.
The failure to disclose also avoids the hard lesson for the juvenile perpetrator — that there are consequences that will impact him or her in their dealings in the community, and the ability to learn and overcome these mistakes and in doing so build character and respect from others.
This exemption rule is an error that causes more harm in the absence of information than it would in its release.