Sunday, April 27, 2008

Teens Suspected in Florida Beating Could Face Life in Prison

By Lis Wiehl

The Sunshine State — home to retired grandparents, girls gone wild on Spring Break… and violent teenagers? In a story that broke just recently, six girls and two boys were arrested after being caught on video camera for allegedly beating up another teen for over 35 minutes! (And I thought Girls Gone Wild was unladylike!) The horrific incident has sparked controversy concerning networking Web sites and what they're actually being used for. This disturbing story has also brought the long-term repercussions of teenage violence to the forefront of media debates.

On Web sites like MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, teenagers are posting a variety of information about themselves — ranging from names and e-mails, to pictures and home videos. Most teenagers are actively involved in at least one of these sites which allow users to control the web-based content. Once kids post something, it becomes part of the public domain for everyone to see. This has quick consequences — the Internet is the bathroom wall of my day, and information is spread like wildfire. And what's been happening among many teens is that rumor spreading and gossip blogs are being fueled through Web sites that hasten the process. This is exactly how the teenage Florida beating debacle began:

The victim, 16-year-old Victoria Lindsay, apparently “talked trash” about one of the victims on her personal MySpace page, and because the MySpace page was visible for everyone to see, it seriously embarrassed the alleged attackers in their real life social scenes leading to their desire for revenge. It is not clear how many of the attackers were actually targeted in the alleged post, but six teenage girls, aged 14 to 17, decided to get even, only this time they wanted to attack with their fists and not their keyboards.

The six teenage girls allegedly lured the victim to one of their houses, and had two guy friends allegedly act as lookouts, as they pummeled and pulverized the victim's face until it was unrecognizable even to the victim's mother. The alleged beating took place over a period of 35 minutes, and the entire ordeal was videotaped. The girls allegedly planned to post the video on YouTube to embarrass the victim. The eight teens were arrested, however, and the video was seized before they had the opportunity to post it online. While the arrestees planned on doing a little LOL-ing (laughing-out-loud) it seems as if they're going to be C.O.L-ing (crying out loud) instead.

The Florida State Attorney's office declared last week that all the teenagers, who allegedly took part in this beating debacle, would be tried as adults. But what does this really mean? It means that this isn't going to just be a slap on the wrist for these teens. Each suspect is being charged with felonious battery, false imprisonment, kidnapping and even tampering with a witness. These are not soft-ball charges in any court, especially since the teens are being tried as adults.

Let's attack the less serious offenses first and then hit to the felonies. The charge of false imprisonment involves three elements: A willful detention, lack of consent and lack of legal authority. The victim in the Florida beating was allegedly lured into the attacker's house and forcibly held down without being allowed to leave. The prosecution basically has a home-run with this charge for all the allegedly teenagers involved. And a standard false imprisonment claim can force a defendant to serve up to five years in jail. However, when dealing with the false imprisonment of minors, the prison term can stretch as far as eight years.

The next charge, kidnapping, is closely associated with false imprisonment. The main difference between the two is the duration of the confinement. For example, when a victim is held for a few hours against their will, it is usually characterized as false imprisonment. However, when a victim is held for days against their will, the charge of kidnapping usually comes into play. Kidnapping statutes vary from state to state, but Florida imposes a minimum sentence of 15 years to a maximum sentence of life in prison. When violence is involved in kidnapping, however — such as in this case — life in prison becomes a much more viable option. The prosecution, however, will likely find kidnapping to be a difficult charge to prove considering the incident only lasted about 35 minutes.

The final charge of felonious battery can carry up to 20 years in prison in most jurisdictions. Since the alleged attack, the video of the beating has surfaced online. Armed with this proof the prosecution should have no problem making their case thanks to the Scorsese-like efforts to document the event. Basically it comes down to how lenient the judge is feeling and how remorseful the alleged attackers are perceived. It's likely though that these teenagers may be facing some serious jail time.

Repercussions of teenage violence can be very serious, especially for these Florida teenagers. This situation should show teens, as well as parents, that Web sites like MySpace, Facebook and YouTube are not always fun and games; someone can get hurt — and not just in cyberspace. Written words on Web sites can hurt as much as those in real life. Educate your children about privacy (or lack thereof) on these Web sites. Let them know the dangers that are out there.

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