With the bang of a gavel from Juvenile Court Judge Douglas Flanagan, the case that upended the high school careers of a couple of Columbia County teens at last can be put to rest.
Reggie Rice and Shad Harris don't get the benefit of anonymity that usually comes in juvenile court. But that's a small price to pay for avoiding the much-harsher penalties they once faced in adult court.
Back in September, Rice and Harris, who then were 17, along with an unnamed 16-year-old boy, a 15-year-old girl and two 14-year-old girls, had a little liquor-and-sex party in a building behind the 16-year-old's Appling home.
Weeks later, the girls' parents hit the ceiling when they found out their daughters had sneaked out from a sleepover to rendezvous with the older boys - and they called the cops.
Perfectly understandable. It is illegal for a 17-year-old to have sex with a 14-year-old. In fact, in Georgia, it can be a felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Once arrested, that's what Rice and Harris faced. Virtually no one thought that was fair - especially after prosecutors also slapped the girls involved with the rare charge of fornication for their willing involvement in the party.
Some semblance of sanity returned to the case when Superior Court Judge Duncan Wheale sent the entire case to juvenile court. He understood perfectly well that while 17-year-olds can be tried as adults, there often are plenty of reasons why they shouldn't be.
From the beginning, all the kids were willing participants in the party; in the end, all six of them thus stood before the same judge to face punishment.
Because Rice and Harris had first been in the adult system, we know their names, and know they will be on probation for a year or two. But because the other four participants were treated as kids from the start, the public isn't allowed to know their punishments.
Fair enough; at least Rice and Harris won't be growing older in prison while the other party-goers continue growing up. More importantly, while their names and transgressions are now well-known, the two have been granted a rare second chance.
Both owe it to the community to demonstrate the promise that their supporters believe they have. Because their names are known, their success will be, too.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.