iPeople: The Common Use of Surrogates in Juvenile Crime

This evening the 5th grade class of Bryker Woods Elementary School presented their annual installment of a self-written and self-produced opera. The theme involved time travel, and the most clever part of the performance was a collection of kids in refrigerator boxes posing as iPeople who happily ate broccoli, took out the garbage, and finished unpleasant math assignments.

The use of surrogates, androids, and A.I. has been a mainstay in our culture’s belief in what is possible with future technologies.  The dream of another being doing all the unpleasant work while we bask in effortless glory has been a recurring them in movies, fiction and pop culture.

Maybe it’s because it’s built upon our past.

America is a young nation, and not too long ago we imported “surrogates” from Africa to work on plantations and  found “androids” to do repetitive, dangerous tasks in unsafe sweatshops. Even in current times we outsource unpleasant work to “surrogates” overseas who need the money more than we do.  One could only imagine the devastation on the global economy if the United States were to develop a clone workforce.

One place where the clone army is alive and well is when adults purposefully use juveniles to commit crime. Like an automaton, there are few things a 13 year-old won’t do if teased or promised enough.

Last week I resolved a case in which an adult found four kids in the apartment complex who were milling about “on their way” to school. (Hence, there was already a predisposition to get into a bit of trouble this morning). Said adult suggested that one of his neighbors had a bunch of stereo equipment, and the kids should go up and take it. He assured them that they wouldn’t get caught, and that if something did happen, he would explain everything.

Sure enough, when the boys were caught in the apartment, the adult answered the door and brazenly told the police that this was his apartment. He went so far as to point out pictures on the wall and claim they were his family members. He didn’t have a great explanation about why there were 4 middle school students hiding throughout the apartment, however, and all were quickly arrested. Thereafter, he quickly explained to the police that he didn’t take anything and the kids were the ones who should be charged with burglary.

Under the law of parties, he’d be charged with burglary whether he went into the apartment or not. But had the police not caught him in the act, there’s a good chance that the police wouldn’t have arrested him, even if the kids said it was all his idea. In juvenile and criminal law, ideas don’t put you in jail – actions do. This clearly wasn’t the first time the adult had used kids to carry out criminal activity. But under the current state law, there is no additional charge or penalty for involving minors in criminal activities like there is in the federal system.

With any luck, Kristin Etter and I will see if we can close that gap when we work with the Legislature this next session.

(Image via flickr.)

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