Earlier this week, the Student Press Law Center covered a story out of Texas involving two young teens being charged for making a fake Facebook profile.
The girls, 12 and 13, stand accused of Online Impersonation, a law that appears to have been designed to prevent identity theft. Other than a very general description of the profile -- that it purported to be from another student at the school and it made remarks law enforcement sources describe as having "damaged the victim's reputation" -- no information has been released. In fact, we have no idea if the girls are even still in custody, or have had a hearing of any kind, or if instead they are being held without any process and any timeline for a process.
And if we are to believe the few county employees in Hood County, Texas who seem to answer their phones, neither do they. From the SPLC story:
It is unclear whether the girls are still in detention or if they were given a court hearing.
On Wednesday, Rose said the girls were still being held at the center and were awaiting a hearing with County Court-at-Law Judge Vincent Messina. On Thursday, 10 days after the arrest, Deeds said he believed the girls had attended a hearing and were released, but he could not confirm that. He said the case is now out of the hands of the sheriff's office.
But Messina has not held any hearings in the case, a staff member in Messina's office said Thursday. An official from the district court in Hood County said the case had not been heard in that court.
[ * * * ]
As to the current location of the girls, Deeds said the only person who could confirm whether the girls have been released from the center is Beth Pate, the juvenile probation director. Deeds said Pate was on vacation the week of the arrest, and she remained unavailable for comment Thursday.
You might well assume that, in the intervening time, we'd have learned more. But we have not, and neither have any of the other sources covering the story, like MSNBC, or Jezebel, or Hood County News.
Obviously, I think it's terrifying to use an identify theft statute in what is essentially an attempt to do an end-run around libel law. This is not about defending the conduct of the girls. This is about not treating twelve-year-old girls like hardened criminals. But that's not what I want to point out here.
I only want to point out the following three additional items that may get lost in the story:
1. When asked the location of two teenage girls in their custody, the worst possible answer that county officials could give is "I don't know," and they give that statement a lot.
2. As it appears nobody has any idea where these girls are or if they've had a hearing, is there really no official in the state of Texas with enough of a conscience left to make any attempt to at least provide a semblance of due process?
3. How is it possible for so many county officials to be on vacation at once that none of the people left can even provide a straight answer as to whether they are holding children in prison?
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