Juvenile Law Center

Hillary

Fourteen-year-old Hillary chuckled to herself as she drew a caricature of her vice principal, replete with her signature red hair and green pantsuit. As the school administrator had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian, Hillary added an armband with a swastika and some knee-high black boots. Then, to get a laugh from her friends, she created a profile for the vice principal on the social networking site MySpace, uploaded her drawing, and added a few facetious features: In the “What do you collect?” category, she wrote “Johnny Depp’s tighty whities,” and under “Favorite people,” she listed “Bob Barker and Satan.” She also included a disclaimer, proclaiming the page a joke.

The police officer assured Hillary's bewildered mother that the court would go easy on her and she shouldn't invest in a lawyer. After all, he said, it was just a prank and Hillary had never been in prior trouble...

Though Hillary forgot about the spoof after a few months, other kids discovered it and posted “comments,” some of which were vulgar and offensive. And by the time the vice principal viewed it, she was so horrified that she filed a harassment complaint—not against those who posted rude comments, but against the girl who created the page.

The police officer assured Hillary’s bewildered mother that the court would go easy on her daughter and she shouldn’t invest in a lawyer. After all, he said, it was just a prank and Hillary had never been in prior trouble. Even the juvenile probation officer who interviewed Hillary said they would recommend probation to the presiding judge, Luzerne County, PA juvenile court Judge Mark Ciavarella. On the day of the hearing, the high school student entered the courtroom without anyone to protect her legal rights and the judge took full advantage. The three-minute hearing opened with, “What makes you think you can get away with this kind of crap?” and ended with, “Adjudicated delinquent…You’re gone!” While her mother yelled “Wait! That’s not what they told us!”, Hillary was handcuffed and whisked away to a wilderness camp for delinquent girls for 90 days.

Fortunately Hillary’s family immediately sought legal counsel and she was granted a writ of habeas corpus and released. Juvenile Law Center persuaded the Pennsylvania court to destroy the records of youths victimized by Ciavarella and is working to ensure families like Hillary’s receive compensation for the suffering they sustained.

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