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Failing to appear for a court hearing can lead to some harsh legal consequences, frequently including a bench warrant, even if the original crime was banal. Normally, a bench warrant wouldn't make the news.
But this is no ordinary bench warrant. Police in Post Falls, Idaho, were shocked to receive an arrest warrant for a 9-year-old boy. What did he allegedly do to merit getting arrested?
Double, Double Your Charges
The answer: He's accused of stealing a pack of gum. The juvenile suspect, whose name hasn't been released, was originally in court for that alleged crime. After failing to appear at a hearing for the second time, a judge finally issued an arrest warrant to get him to show up.
Post Falls Police Chief Scott Haug told local TV station KHQ that it was the first time in his 30 years of policing that he's seen an arrest warrant for a 9-year-old. Details are sketchy because the defendant is under the age of 18, and state laws usually prevent officials from releasing details about arrested minors.
Always Let the Court Know
Haug also mentioned that it's not unusual for stores to press charges for theft. Of course, seasoned readers of our blogs know that "pressing charges" isn't really a thing beyond TV, but the most stores can do is urge prosecutors to charge for a theft, no matter how small.
Many national chain stores have "zero tolerance" corporate policies of always pursuing prosecutions for theft as a deterrent. (That's what those signs mean when they say "shoplifters will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.") In 2006, however, Walmart abandoned its zero-tolerance policy and declared that its employees should stop shoplifters only if the value of the goods was more than $25.
Haug also said that the juvenile suspect didn't show up to his hearings because his family had no way to get him to the courthouse. That reason rarely flies, though, as defendants are expected to be at their hearings unless they notify the court in advance. Haug said that they "would have provided something for the family" if they had known in advance that they had no way to get the kid to court.
Theft of less than $1,000 worth of property in a single incident is called "petit theft" in Idaho, and is a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and/or a county jail term of less than a year. Not showing up to a court date would be contempt, which is also punishable as a misdemeanor an carries a fine of up to $5,000 and/or up to five days in jail.