Originally created 06/28/99

Courts say adult, child rights differ



No smoking. No R-rated films. No renting cars.

And, by the way, be home by dark.

David Sands, a New York teen-ager, is weary of growing restrictions targeting millions of young people today. And with recent congressional legislation that aims to increase the age requirements on gun possession and create a federal law prohibiting the sale of sexual and violent material to minors under 17, other teens are joining the chorus.

To combat such limits on his freedoms, David has formed a group called Concerned Anarchist Teen-agers, using a personal Web site to urge other youngsters to "rise up and demand our equal rights as citizens of the United States of America."

He also encourages fellow teen-agers to write their congressmen about such age discrimination.

"It is time to demand the same rights as adults," David said. "Do not respect your elders, only respect your equals. We shall not be treated as second-hand citizens merely because of the age of our birth."

But the requirement for teen-agers to show identification to see R-rated movies isn't the only age restriction affecting today's teen-agers.

Want to rent a car or stay at a local motel? Get married or run for political office? Leave home or drop out of school?

Well, that depends on your date of birth.

Lance Blocker, a 14-year-old weekend bagger at Winn-Dixie in Aiken, accepts restrictions like curfews and voting.

But if he wants to go see Eddie Murphy in the jailhouse movie called Life, he believes 17 is a bit steep to require adult permission. By age 15 and 16, Lance believes teens are mature enough to view R-rated movies.

And unlike some teens, Lance wants to work longer than eight hours a day, the maximum number the law allows during the summer for someone his age.

"I wish I could work more," he said. "I am saving for school to attend the University of North Carolina."

Skateboarders outside H. Odell Weeks Activities Center recently were less concerned about privileges and more about how society treats them.

"It's not really teen-ager rights that bothers me," said 14-year-old Evan Cane. "It's all the stereotypes. People just see a teen-ager walking down the road and think we're doing something wrong."

Will Sexton, a vocal 14-year-old in the crowd of skaters, said police were his biggest complaint because they harass teen-agers. If the teens object, they get thrown in the back of a police car, he said.

"What rights? We don't have any until we're 18," he said. "When you're little and you're 6 years old, I can understand parents making decisions for you. But when you're older and see what the world's like, I think you're old enough to make your own decisions."

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled that teen-agers do not have the same rights as adults, said University of South Carolina assistant professor William Ruefle.

"They're children. Until you become a legal adult, your parent has a lot of authority over you that an adult doesn't have over other adults," he said.

The professor said children never had rights, something he calls a principle of natural law that allows parents to tell their children what to do.

"The question is, where do you draw the line?" said Mr. Ruefle, with the university's College of Criminal Justice. "So the Supreme Court then deals with it on an issue-by-issue basis."

A hot topic nowadays is abortion and whether a minor can have one without her parents' being notified, the professor said. That's an ongoing debate.

Another controversy: juvenile curfews.

A federal appeals court ruled June 18 that the District of Columbia can enforce its curfew law. It was a defeat for the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued that teens should have the right of free movement.

"The courts have supported the constitutionality of curfew ordinances," Mr. Ruefle said. "If citizens don't like the law, elect new people and change it."

For law-enforcement officers, age can create a host of issues.

In domestic problems, 17 is an especially tricky age, said Aiken County sheriff's Lt. Robert Anderson.

A 17-year-old has the right to leave home. But the teen also has a right to return whenever he wants, and parents are legally responsible for housing him.

"They do have the right to come and go," Lt. Anderson said. "They also have the right to be disciplined by their parents. They must live by house rules at 17."

If they cause problems with the law, a 17-year-old is subject to arrest under the mandatory criminal domestic violence laws.

At 17, teens are viewed by the courts as adults, no matter how childish their behavior.

"If they steal a candy bar from the store at 17, he goes to jail -- big jail," Lt. Anderson said. "At 16, they are petitioned through juvenile court."

For 16-year-olds who commit more serious offenses, police are bound by law to seek warrants in adult court. That includes crimes such as murder, rape, burglary and arson. Otherwise, 16 and younger means teens are charged as juveniles.

The current restrictions are no bother to summer counselor Jessica Porter, 17. The Aiken teen is patient in waiting for her rights.

"I think restrictions are necessary because even though there are some who are responsible, there are some who break the law," she said. "So the restrictions are needed to make sure everyone is safe."

Greg Rickabaugh can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.