From the July 2004 Idaho Observer:
The STATE OF IDAHO v. Little Janie Doe
by The Idaho Observer
The Idaho State Supreme Court determined in June, 2003, that a little girl who expressed childish anger at her friend by hiding her bicycle in the bushes is not a criminal in violation of Idaho Code 49-227 -- operating a vehicle without owner's consent.
Beginning in spring, 2001, 11-year-old Jane Doe was prosecuted as a criminal by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. What is more alarming is that she was convicted in Idaho State Magistrate Court and, upon appeal, the little girl's conviction was affirmed in the Idaho State District Court.
The dispute between Doe and her friend occurred April 17, 2001. The matter was complicated when the bicycle, which Doe admitted to hiding in some bushes located behind the apartment where she and her friend lived, was stolen.
The children's parents were obviously unable to handle such a complicated controversy themselves. So the victim's parents called the police. Ultimately, the state petitioned the magistrate alleging that Doe fell into the purview of the Juvenile Corrections Act for being in criminal violation of IC 49-227.
Doe filed a motion to dismiss, alleging that a bicycle is not a vehicle. The magistrate denied Doe's motion, the Supreme Court explained.
Doe moved again to dismiss the charges at an evidentiary hearing on grounds that the state failed to prove that she actually rode the bicycle. The motion was denied because the magistrate reasoned that she had control of the bike and was, therefore, operating it -- whether she was riding or pushing it was irrelevant.
The case was appealed to the District Court. In her appeal, Doe contended that a bicycle is not a vehicle for the purposes of Section 49-227 (Idaho's motor vehicle code) and that pushing a bike does not satisfy the statutory requirements of operating a vehicle. In its appellate capacity, the District Court affirmed the magistrate's ruling.
According to the five-page Supreme Court ruling, the state's high court reviewed many cases regarding statutory construction and interpretation, legislative intent and the purpose of the appellate court.
The Court did find that the definition of vehicle does include bicycle, but relied on the definition of the term operator as found at IC 49-116(1), which states that every person who is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle on a roadway open for public use. The Court found the state's argument that the legislature's intent with the term operate was to include all types of uses (including a little girl pushing another little girl's bicycle?) unconvincing.
The Supreme Court further ruled that, for the state to prove its case, it would have had to demonstrate that Doe was using her friend's bicycle as a method of transportation. Accordingly, Doe's conduct did not constitute operating a vehicle without owner's consent. The intermediate appellate decision of the district court is reversed and the magistrate's decree finding that Doe fell within the purview of the Juvenile Corrections Act for operating a vehicle without the owner's consent is therefore vacated, the Supreme Court concluded.
Think about this case: Because the parents were too immature to behave rationally and solve this phenomenally uncomplicated issue themselves, the state was called in to handle it for them. Parents, when acting like mature adults, could use such an incident as a way to teach both children valuable lessons and have the problem solved within minutes for, perhaps, the price of a replacement bicycle.
Instead, they called the state in and it brought in the police, prosecutors, a magistrate, an appellate panel, the Supreme Court and took almost two-and-a-half years to merely get all the parties back to the point where the police were called.
Aside from the absurdity of this case and the tremendous waste of time and resources it represents, the children were surrounded by petty humans failing miserably in their capacity as adult role models for young people.
Who is to blame here -- the state for doing what the state does best (spend money to justify confusing simple issues) -or- today's parents who are, themselves, so childish they aren't capable of being wiser than two little girls who got mad at each other?
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