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Should a pre-teen golf cart joyride be charged as a felony?

Two middle school boys have been charged with felonies after joyriding in golf carts at the Volusia Memorial Gardens cemetery in Ormond Beach. One of the golf carts was damaged and will cost an estimated $3,000 to repair. It is not clear whether the pair will be facing the felony theft charges in adult or juvenile court.

The ages of the two boys were not mentioned by the press, but presumably they are between 12 and 14. According to the boys, they had been at a nearby skate park last Saturday morning. Just as they began to get bored at around 11:00 a.m., two teenagers arrived and showed them where the golf carts were stored at the cemetery.

The middle schoolers continued to skate for another hour or so, and then went across to the cemetery's utility shed and took out a white golf cart. They road that for a while until the battery began to die, then went back and took out another cart, this one green. They drove around enjoying the adventure for two hours, according to the police. At one point, they got too close to a tree and the roof of the green golf cart was damaged.

Only after the boys had left did someone notice that anything was amiss. Police say that around 1:00 p.m., someone called a cemetery maintenance worker to report that the roof and windshield of a golf cart, along with some tools were lying in an open field. That worker apparently called the police.

The police would have been out of luck searching for the culprits if the boys hadn't returned. An officer stopped the two boys, who remorsefully admitted the joyride, and called their parents.

Perhaps that's where it should have ended. Middle school-aged children can certainly tell right from wrong, but they typically lack many of the developmental skills required to accurately predict the consequences of their actions and can often be led astray by older teens.

In a simpler day, the boys' parents would have accepted financial responsibility for the damage their children had done and the incident would have been resolved. Today, in a society filled with sometimes irrational fear of teen crime, the boys are facing felony charges. Do you think that's the best way to handle young teens on a lark that ended up going too far?

Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal, "Middle-schoolers charged with felony after cemetery joyride," Lyda Longa, Feb. 18, 2008

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