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Should youthful indiscretions haunt forever?

Posted: January 15, 2012 - 1:02am  |  Updated: January 15, 2012 - 10:44am

If you’re a kid arrested for drinking underage at a party, and the cops file a report, your name will be in the paper and on our Web site.

It’s public information, accessible through the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, made simpler to find through our site.

That’s a basic function of any newspaper: To make it easier for citizens to get information. That’s why, for example, we send staffers to sit through meetings. Most people have better things to do, so we attend those sessions to help keep citizens informed.

The only difference in that very-traditional function, compared to a couple of decades ago, is that coverage now is loaded onto the Internet. There, its distribution is limited only by the number of people seeking access, and its lifespan limited only by the existence of electricity.

Here’s where all this comes together: In recent weeks, we’ve had the usual calls from people who want information “kept out of the paper.” It probably isn’t what you’d expect: Rarely do we hear from people afraid of a DUI or an arrest making it into the news.

Instead, we hear more often from people who want to keep a marriage license listing or a divorce out of the paper. And we sometimes are asked to remove a property transfer from our Web site, typically by people who’s seen their name pop up on a vanity search. We reject all those requests.

Lately, though, we’ve heard a different sort of plea: Specifically, from someone whose name was listed a while back among a group of young people cited for underage drinking.

What this person wants is to either have their name taken off the Internet immediately, or failing that, for it to have a “sunset” clause so it wouldn’t hang in the World Wide Web forever.

I’m willing to debate this request – not because it’s someone I know (I don’t), but because of the age.

I’ve always thought there is a good, philosophical reason for juvenile criminals to not be named in most cases. As a society, we generally believe juveniles shouldn’t be held accountable forever for minor infractions of their youth.

But what about relatively minor infractions in which someone under 18 is charged as an adult? What about underage drinking, which is the only crime for which someone older than 18 can be considered a minor (and which isn’t even illegal as long as it’s inside your own home)?

The person making this request isn’t seeking to duck the consequences. The worry is that through the unlimited life-span of items on the Internet, a relatively minor crime could haunt for years to come – potentially, interfering with college applications and scholarships, or job prospects later.

Now: Anyone who allows such a minor infraction to derail the future of an otherwise good applicant is a jerk. I don’t have any ability to de-jerkify the world. If I did, I know a bunch of people who would disappear immediately.

But I do have at least some ability to examine whether our job at informing the public also unwittingly derails opportunities for juveniles (adults, you’re on your own) who might not deserve to be stigmatized forever by a youthful mistake.

What do you think? I’d appreciate thoughtful suggestions.

 

(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/
barrypaschal.)

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Comments (15)

Riverman1

Print It, It's No Big Deal

It's news. Print the thing. My son was caught in Columbia County at a party when he was 17 drinking. About half of the school was at that party. They were all convicted, did their community service and had the first offender thing get rid of the arrest. He got a college scholarship playing baseball, went to law school and is a member of the GA Bar. It didn't hurt one bit that people found out about it. I believe public knowledge of the event encourages better behavior in the future and possibly even prevents some from breaking the law the first time. Heck, it's going to end up on the Internet anyway as you said.

Little Lamb

News vs. History

I have a suggestion. I observed it in action myself. On my web site a few years ago I posted a link to a story in the Nashville Tennessean. Click on the link, read the story, no problem. Then one day a few years later I clicked on the link but what showed up was a page saying that the requested story was now archived, and that I could view it by going to another page and paying $5.95 by credit card. At that time I had control over whether I really wanted to read it or could l just live with my memory of the story?

So, for those "youthful indiscretion" stories in the News-Times, just send them to a special place on your web site where people have to pay to get the information (after a reasonable period for free viewing while the information is still "news"). That way, you are not killing the information, but you are keeping some prying eyes away from the information.

Little Lamb

Moderator

I posted a comment early Sunday afternoon and it went through fine. While reading it (post submitting it) I noticed a typo so I used the edit feature to correct the typo. When I tried to submit the edit, the entire thing went in the the "Moderator must approve this" area.

The post was a suggestion to Barry about how to accommodate both the desire to provide news to the public and the desire to remove youthful indiscretion stuff after a period of time.

Since Sunday is an off day, and Monday is a holiday for many, will it be Tuesday or later before a moderator gets around to reading my post?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Hey, there it is up above. You can delete this one now if you want to.

TechFan63

Permanent punishment for minor offenses is unjust

If the court system wipes the slate clean then the "Internet court of public opinion" should do the same. If the Internet articles relating to these minor offenses are available for posterity they can affect college applications, scholarships and future job applications thereby punishing these kids forever. I also disagree with the practice of printing a minor's name and address in these circumstances and potentially exposing them to dangerous elements. The punishment by the parents and the court system should suffice and these minors should not be punished for life because these articles remain on the Internet to follow them forever. If these news organizations feel compelled to print them in the physical newspaper to help deter bad decision making, it is not necessary to also publish them online. At least these kids would then have a chance to pay for their indiscretions, as they should, and not have these minor violations follow them forever.

Craig Spinks

Underage Drinking

Have our standards of civility devolved to such an extent that drinking by persons below the age of majority is considered an "indiscretion" or "a minor offense?"

And try that "everybody does it" and "everybody makes a mistake" BS on someone else.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

stillamazed

Underage drinking

Good morning River, hope you see this...normally I agree with you and I always enjoy your comments but on this one I have to disagree. I am happy for your son by the way! My daughter and some friends also got a minor in possession the night of her senior prom, no one was driving, they were all dropped off by someone and we thought that after she did her probation and community service (it was a first and only offense) that would be the end of it but wrong, it wasn't and it came out when she went to go into the military and it kept her from getting a job that she really wanted. She is in the military and has a good job but because of that she is not in the job she initially wanted to be in. It was wrong what they did and as parents we made no excuses for it but should a stupid mistake follow a kid their whole life? I personaly do not think so. By the way techfan, we thought it would be wiped off in the court also but it wasn't, the military could still see it. WOW Craig, it must be nice to be so perfect......keep up the good work!

Little Lamb

Faulty Premise

I think Techfan's initial sentence above is interesting. He first makes a premise that the court system wipes someone's slate clean. Then he draws the conclusion that newspapers, magazines, bloggers, etc. should not put news on the internet "forever."

I think the initial premise is wrong. Courts do not wipe the slate clean. They keep records on paper and in computer databases with the intention of the records being permanent. Our great hope is that the records be accurate.

Techfan's indignation over possible loss of scholarships because someone finds out on the internet that the applicant was collared for underage drinking is overblown. Scholarships are not a civil right.

Little Lamb

The Perfect Job

And for stillamazed; getting the job that you really want is not a civil right, either.

collegemom

Glass Houses

The questions I pose to adults is, "Have you ever made a mistake that you are sorry for?" As there are no perfect people in this world, I'm sure the answer to that is yes. My second question is, "Do you want to be punished or labeled for that mistake forever?" I'm sure this answer is no because you are more than that one mistake. My last question is, “Has anyone ever given you a second chance?” If so, perhaps the newspapers and other media should give kids a second chance to learn from their mistake without labeling them forever online as a troubled youth. The end result of a mistake should be remorse, facing the consequence, and moving on hopefully to not repeat the mistake (or crime) again. Because teens are in a learning stage and are not yet considered adults, the media should not print their names unless they are the perpetrator of a violent crime, such as murder, assault, or a sex offense. As a society, we are potentially damaging our young people when we publish the name of someone who had a drink as though they are a criminal of a greater magnitude. Sadly, I know several good kids who have lost scholarships or opportunities due to one stupid decision. The court system is supposed to wipe the slate clean for any minor that is under the age of 18 on their eighteenth birthday. Clearly, the Columbia County News Times has the right to publish this information as guaranteed in the First Amendment, but who does it really serve to print this or to keep it online? Is anyone better or safer because of knowing this information? And should it label a teen in print and online forever? I think not!

Riverman1

Stillamazed...Sorry

Stillamazed, that sounds about like what my son did. I'm sorry it harmed your daughter's military career. I would think the first offender thing would clear a criminal record for someone going in the military. Again, sorry.

Riverman1

Thinking More

It may have popped up when my son was screened before admission to the Bar, and it's possible he had to write some kind of statement or something, but I think it's wrong the military didn't waive that one indiscretion for your daughter. By the way, I'm sure your she can get what she wants after a few years if she plans to stay in longer. As most know, I spent lots of time in the Army and saw things like that all the time.

Shop-Blonde

My son went through this same

My son went through this same situation in recent years. I am sorry for anyone to have to suffer through it too. I don't think the people writing these stories think about the repercussions to those families involved. We as parents are scrutinized just as much as our children. People may say they do not judge kids when they go through something like this but actions speak louder than words. Their is no reason to continue to punish a child for being fallible in their youth. I'm sure as I sit hear and breathe that the majority of adults reading this column had a drink before they were legally of age. I'm also sure they wouldn't want to look their names up on the internet and see it in bold print forever either. You never know what these kids stand to loose today by having something on the internet forever. It's hard enough to graduate high school with honors and then have things taken away because of something like this. You may not find that fair but a board making the decision to give that scholarship or not might not feel the same way. Yes, they shouldn't have participated in the act but to be punished forever, I think not. "He who is without sin, cast the first stone."

Riverman1

Is There Something Wrong With This Law?

If this many of us had kids who were caught drinking underage and all of them turned out pretty good maybe it should be decriminalized? Is some type of alternative punishment in order?

collegemom

Growing up is hard enough these days

Well said Shop-Blonde and Riverman1. Yes, there is so much wrong with this law. This is a minor offense committed by minors. The punishment received through the court system is harsh enough for a first offense crime: appearance in court, community service, and a fine. The media should not seek complete annihilation of their reputation by posting their names online indefinitely. I am sure if someone Googles a job applicant's name and pulls up the News Times Police Blotter that they will look elsewhere to fill their position because they don't want to take the risk. Committing an act like underage drinking robs the teens that are named by the media of their present. The decision to post it online forever robs them of their future. Even hardened criminals are granted the chance to rehabilitate. Don't our local teens deserve the same chance? The Columbia County News Times should give these young people the chance to be forgiven for so minor of an infraction and rethink their policy of publishing the names of minors.

stillamazed

To Little Lamb

Get off your frigging high horse.....no ones life is a perfect as you seem to be. It must be amazing to have such a perfect life and to think you can judge others. And by the way, no one on here said it was a civil right to get a good job but at least she wants a JOB......and by the way, she volunteered to protect your right to be on here all high and mighy. No one and I mean no ones life is that perfect, we ALL have someone in our families or someone we know who has made a stupid mistake and you are a hypocrite if you say otherwise. I don't think a one time stupid mistake that did not involve being in a vehicle should haunt a child the rest of thier life. Just remember we all will have children and grandchildren so before you try to be so high and mighty you may want to think what may could go wrong with family, no ones if perfect.Thanks River and and all of other real parents on here for your support and sorry for coming across so angry but these perfect people get on my nerves, it seems so very easy for them to judge others.

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