What you don't know can hurt you, especially when it comes to the law:
- Sex before age 16 can get you jail time in Georgia.
- An instant message with a promise of bodily harm can get you arrested.
- Dropping out of school can cause you to lose your driver's license or not get one until you're 18.
Saying "I didn't know" won't keep you from being charged by the police or sentenced in a court of law.
"Some teens understand morally what's right and wrong, they just don't necessarily know what's illegal and the depth of that illegality," said Wade Padgett, the chief magistrate judge of Columbia County. "They know from a moral sense that they aren't supposed to be having sexual intercourse, but they don't think of the fact that they can spend 25 years in prison for having sex when they are underage."
Judge Padgett set out to change that with Teenage Years 101, a 90-minute presentation aimed at educating teens about the laws, issues and punishments that affect them.
Judge Padgett didn't sugarcoat the reality to the capacity crowd of teens at the Columbia County Library in Evans on Sept. 26. With graphic photos, a few well-placed jokes and a question-and-answer session, he went over almost every law that affects teens, including drugs, alcohol, driving privileges, truancy and sexual offenses.
"I'm not trying to teach a law class," he told the crowd. "I'm trying to help educate you. Give you the rule book."
Too many teens don't get that important overview, Judge Padgett said in an earlier interview. They never learn fully that age is no barrier for the law.
"We have a lot of kids going to jail for acting like a teen," he said. "They're doing things that kids do, but they're doing it in such a permanent way. A lot of us are lucky that we didn't get caught for everything we've done wrong, but now the law is serious."
Wes Adams said his father made him come to the meeting, but he was glad that he did because he didn't know many of the laws and consequences.
"I am still confused about some of the laws, but now I know about the Romeo clause (for sentencing minor-age sex offenders) because Judge Padgett was able to explain the laws in a way a teen could understand," the junior at Greenbrier High School said.
Travis Pittman, 18, a senior at Evans High School, didn't have to be told to attend. He went to Judge Padgett's forum on his own.
As a legal adult, he wanted to be sure he was up to date on any of the changes in the laws, he said.
"I knew most of the laws, but there were a couple of them I wasn't aware had changed," he said.
Awareness is the first half of the battle, responsibility is the other, Judge Padgett told the teens before introducing his guest speaker, William Stulb. Mr. Stulb was convicted and sentenced for statutory rape after an incident when he was 18 involving sexual contact with a girl who was 14. He is serving a one-year sentence before beginning nine years on probation.
"The decisions you make now could affect your life," Mr. Stulb said while wearing leg irons and a bright-orange jumpsuit. "The law is the law. You might think it's stupid, but it's the law. It won't bend ..."
Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
See for yourself
What: Chief Magistrate Judge Wade Padgett's Teenage Years 101, an information session on the laws affecting teens in Georgia
When: Parents-only session at 7 p.m. Oct. 16; teens-only session at 7 p.m. Oct. 18
Where: Augusta Preparatory Day School, 285 Flowing Wells Road, Martinez
Information: (706) 855-7300
KNOW THE LAW
The law applies to all, but there are a few major laws that affect teens. Here is a sampling:
The age of consent is the age in which courts say you can legally agree to have sex of any kind.
In Georgia and South Carolina, the age of consent is 16.
NOTE: In both states, it is against the law to have sex of any kind before you're married, regardless of age. There can be a charge of fornication (for either boys or girls) under the state code.
In Georgia, a Romeo and Juliet clause makes special privilege for age in the sentencing of victims and offenders. Those who are younger than 18 and no more than four years apart face different penalties in sex-offense cases.
NOTE: This does not affect convictions. Any sex crime committed between any age group can result in having to register as a sex offender.
Alcohol: It is illegal for anyone younger than 21 to possess alcohol. Possession includes having a drink. Evidence in the case can be presence of alcohol in the body.
Prescription Drugs: It is illegal to use another person's prescription medicine, even if it is for minor pain or to help you concentrate.
Narcotics: It is illegal to possess, possess with intent to distribute, sell, manufacture or traffic (transport) all types of illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, etc. Remember that possession includes ingestion (swallowing, drinking, etc.).
NOTE: The "arms reach" precedent in Georgia and the "constructive possession" precedent in South Carolina says that if an illegal substance is found in the vicinity of a group of people, all can be arrested. Courts ultimately decide who is responsible (guilty), but the arrest will be on your criminal record permanently.
- In Georgia, you can't drive with nonfamily passengers for the first six months. After the first six months, you can drive with no more than three nonfamily passengers that are under younger than 21.
- In South Carolina, no more than two passengers younger than 21 can be in the car, unless you are accompanied by a licensed adult who is at least 21 years old. The only exception is if you are transporting family members or pupils to and from school.
- In Georgia, drivers younger than 18 must stay off the road between midnight and 6 a.m.
- In South Carolina, drivers younger than 17 can't drive from midnight to 6 a.m., unless accompanied by a licensed parent or legal guardian.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI): The blood alcohol content (the level of alcohol in one's system while driving) is 0.08 percent for those over 21. Those under 21 have a legal limit of 0.02 in Georgia and South Carolina before they have repercussions to their driver's licenses.
NOTE: You can still be charged with DUI even if your blood alcohol level is less than the legal limit if it is found that you are a "less safe driver" because of alcohol or drugs.
Truancy: In Georgia you may not apply for or keep a driver's permit or license if you withdraw from school (if you are under age 18), have a total of 10 unexcused absences or have any conduct infractions.
- In Georgia, if you receive a traffic citation after you receive your license, your license may be suspended. Paying the citation fee does not mean your license will not be suspended.
- In South Carolina, if you are under the age of 17 and accrue six or more points on your record before you have held your license for one year, your license will be suspended for six months.
Terroristic threats: It is a felony in both states to threaten harm to another via text, e-mail or instant messaging.
In Richmond County, it is illegal for those under 18 to be out without supervision between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. on weekdays and midnight and 5 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
FIND OUT MORE?
Visit childlaw.sc.edu. Look under Publications, see Kids Law