Columbia County's Chief Magistrate Judge J. Wade Padgett says he's heard the comment, "I didn't know,'' from teen defendants and their parents in his courtroom.
It's an excuse he says he's looking to end.
With his experience as a judge, attorney and father, Padgett is holding a seminar to inform teens and their parents of the legal consequences facing them.
"We have a lot of kids who come through court who are criminal defendants who are convicted of crimes, victims of crimes, (have) hurt themselves, (have) killed someone, or (have) ruined their future, all because of the immaturity, which we probably all had at that age," Padgett said, adding that parents of those teens often tell him that if they'd only known, things might be different for their child.
"I got tired of it. So I decided to conduct a program that is going to be a relatively in-depth look into the legal issues facing teens in modern society," he said.
The free seminar includes one class for teens 13-19 and a second class for parents of teens. The seminar for parents is scheduled for Tuesday at the performing arts center inside the Columbia County Library on Ronald Reagan Drive. The course for teens is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26, also at the performing arts center. The public is invited and no registration is required.
"At some point, I hope that people don't get lost on the statute numbers and legal descriptions of crimes," Padgett said, adding that the fourth amendment prohibiting illegal searches and seizures applies to law enforcement, not parents. "It is my hope that (parents) understand that the goal is that we be parents, not friends."
Padgett will discuss drug and alcohol abuse, drivers licenses, sex, technology and the consequences and punishments for criminal violations. The seminar, he said, is not polite conversations, but must include uncomfortable topics. He said that is why it is so important to have separate seminars for teens and parents.
"I hope parents will send their kids and understand that I need to have a level of conversation with them and if they need to raise their hands, they need to raise their hand,'' Padgett said. Having parents in the room would discourage teens from asking appropriate questions. "And parents need to ask things they don't want their kids to know they don't know."
Padgett got a lot of information for the seminar from District Attorney Danny Craig and begins with basic definitions such as the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor. It also includes a six-year photo progression of one man affected by drug and alcohol abuse.
"We have a huge problem with prescription drugs and methamphetamine," Padgett said. "I am actually going to show these people how easy it is to get a meth recipe off the Internet. ... This isn't just happening in New York. This isn't just happening in L.A. It is happening here."
Padgett said he'll explain potential damages from breaking drivers license restrictions and when a teen's license can be suspended.
Teen sex and its consequences also will be addressed.
"We have kids in this community who say oral sex is not sex," Padgett said. Many times an act of sodomy can have more serious consequences than underage sex, he said.
Padgett said teens face many new advances, such as technology, that adults didn't have to worry about during their teens. Padgett will address cell phones and Web sites such as www.facebook.com and www.myspace.com, and how posting threatening comments on the Internet site can be criminal.
Padgett said he'll schedule more seminars and give the presentation in other counties or to private groups if it means keeping teens out of trouble. By the time he sees teens in court, something has already happened to bring them there, he said.
"I am willing to do whatever it takes," Padgett said, adding that if the first seminars fill up, he'll make arrangements for more dates. "If it means I have to do 10 of these just for Columbia County, I'll do it because I think this is what I am supposed to be doing.''
For more information about the seminar, call the Columbia County Magistrate's office at (706) 868-3316.
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