Appeals Court upholds ruling ordering boy to pay restitution for ‘tagging’ in Easthampton
EASTHAMPTON — The state’s Appeals Court has decided a lower court acted properly when it ordered a boy, despite his age, to pay for property damage he caused.
The child’s lawyer, Craig. R. Bartolomei of Hadley, said by telephone Wednesday that he was disappointed but not surprised by the decision.
The boy, who was 10 at the time, submitted to facts sufficient to be found delinquent in Franklin-Hampshire Juvenile Court following allegations he spray painted graffiti on several properties in Easthampton in 2010, causing about $1,300 worth of damage.
That case was continued without a finding for one year with the condition that the child make restitution to the property owners. At the end of that year, the child was found in violation of probation after not having paid back any of the money owed.
The child argued he was unable to pay the money back because he only 12 years old and unable to legally work due to his age. His only asset was a savings account with about $20 in it, he argued.
Judge James G. Collins, who presided over the child’s probation violation hearing in October 2011, found the child in violation and extended his probation until he turns 16 to allow him time to make restitution.
Collins also reduced the restitution amount to about $1,000, and waived any other probation costs to allow him to “concentrate his energies” on making restitution, according to the decision.
Collins said the child had not made “even the barest gesture towards paying the restitution ordered,” and added he felt the child seemed to be making an attempt at “running out the clock” on his probation term.
Bartolomei argued the judge abused his discretion by ordering that restitution be paid despite the child not being old enough to work in Massachusetts.
The Appeals Court said that restitution was a condition the boy agreed to that allowed his case to be continued without a finding. If the defendant meets all conditions set by the court, a case continued without a finding is ultimately dismissed.
Bartolomei argued the judge’s decision was punitive and contrary to the purpose of the juvenile justice system.
That purpose, according to state law cited in the decision, is to not treat juvenile offenders as criminals, but as children “in need of aid, encouragement and guidance.”
The Appeals Court said it was Collins’ intent to provide that guidance by extending the probation period and ordering restitution.
Collins was quoted by the court in its decision as saying, “I think it is a very important moral lesson for (all) of us to know that if we ever hurt anybody in life, we have to make them whole again.”
The court said there are options for children as young as the defendant to legitimately earn money, including newspaper delivery, snow shoveling, lawn mowing, recycling or baby-sitting.
The court also rejected claims that the restitution amounts were improperly calculated.
Bartolomei said he plans on submitting the case for further appellate review, which, if successful, would allow it to be heard by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.