Today’s Opinion: Boys will be boys

POSTED: 05/19/11 12:21 PM

No matter what they did, sometimes boys who appear in court manage to make several impressions within a short period of time, and all these impressions seem to contradict each other.

Such was the case with a 16-year-old boy, whose stature suggested that he could have been twelve or fourteen. Yesterday afternoon he sat in front of Judge Keppels in the Court in First Instance on charges of threatening a neighbor twice and of taking part in a burglary at the house of a policeman.

The Judge usually discusses the contents of the case file with the defendant. That creates opportunities for defendants to tell their side of the story, and for judge and prosecutor to get an impression of whom they are dealing with.

Things did not start well. The boy sat with his head down, mumbled unintelligible answers, and created the impression that he could not care less. He called on his right to remain silent and to let his attorney do the talking.

But as the case continued, the boy started to change his attitude and he became more forthcoming with answers. The feud with his neighbor turned out to have a history and it was not at all clear that the first threats had come from the boy. It remained also unclear when these threats had taken place exactly, so in the end the prosecution acquitted him. His lawyer asked to give him the benefit of the doubt, and he got it.

Things were different with the burglary though. The boy had been the lookout while members of the bad company he held did the actual stealing. That’s punishable, and the prosecutor let him have it: 4 months conditional with 2 years of probation.

And while his attorney pleaded for an overall acquittal, Judge Keppels had something else in store. She sentenced the boy to a 2-month conditional prison sentence, but she also gave him 80 hours of community service.

His mom told the court that “everything is normal” at home, though she did not define normal. The boy wants to become a maintenance man, he said, and he is following a course at the Wifol that takes him off the streets for three hours a couple of days a week.

What do you do the rest of the time? The Judge wanted to know.

Stay out of trouble, the boy answered.

After the verdict was on the table, the question remained whether he wanted to appeal. But the young man quickly said that he would do the community service.

Then it was all over, or so we thought. But before leaving the courtroom, the boy thanked the interpreter and went to shake hands with the prosecutor, the judge and the court recorder.

That put a smile on everybody’s face and left the impression that the boy still has a future ahead of him.


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