A Western Massachusetts boy who spray-painted graffiti onto his neighbors’ homes as an 11-year-old was ordered Wednesday to get a job so he can pay the victims $1,000 in restitution — and learn a life lesson at the same time.
The boy, who was identified in the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruling by the pseudonym Avram, had previously had charges of juvenile delinquency put on hold for one year in return for his promise to make restitution to his neighbors in Easthampton.
After he failed to pay any money within that year, Juvenile Court Judge James G. Collins extended the now 12-year-old boy’s probation for four years and ordered him to get a job, an order that defense lawyer Craig R. Bartolomei said was contrary to juvenile law and to the reality of society today.
“The state itself limits what they [12-year-olds] can do,’’ Bartolomei said in a telephone interview. “They can be actors, with a permit. They can work a farm, and they can basically deliver newspapers. But kids don’t deliver newspapers any more.
“That’s what I keep coming back to,” he added. “Where does a 12-year-old find work to pay this off? It’s not going to happen.’’
But the three-judge panel of the Appeals Court, in a ruling Wednesday written by Judge William J. Meade, said the boy could find work literally outside his front door.
The boy could “earn money by obtaining a paper route, mowing lawns, raking leaves, shoveling snow, baby-sitting, delivering groceries, or by recycling items upon which a deposit had been paid,” Meade wrote. In addition, he noted, state law permits children as young as 9 years old to work as a newspaper delivery person.
Meade emphasized that the judge was not driven by dollars in extending the boy’s probation.
“When he extended the period of probation, the judge properly sought to teach the juvenile one of life’s primary lessons: He is responsible for the actions he takes,’’ Meade wrote. “Such an order not only provided an opportunity to build the juvenile’s character and integrity, but also to promote his life as a law-abiding citizen.
“The judge’s order had the added benefit of instilling in the juvenile the important values of respect for others [as well as their property] and a basic understanding of the value of work.”
Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan said the court made the right call not only in the case of the vandalism victims in Easthampton, but also for the thousands of people statewide who sustain property damage at the hands of juveniles.
He also said the boy, who does not have any mental or physical limitations, will benefit from learning that he is responsible for himself and the actions he takes. “He had two strong arms and two strong legs to make his way over to his neighbor’s house,’’ said Sullivan. “He can use those two strong arms and two strong legs to pay restitution.’’
Sullivan added that if the boy cannot find anyone to hire him, then the boy should contact his juvenile diversion program “and we’ll hook him up.’’
Bartolomei, who was appointed by the juvenile court to represent the boy, said he was considering an appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court, if his client agrees. Bartolomei said that if no appeal is undertaken, his client would have to pay the restitution, which does not include interest.
Elaine Dudkiewicz owns one of the homes targeted by the boy. In her case, he used red spray paint on their newly sided garage.
“I was pretty upset, and my husband, especially, was upset,’’ she said in a telephone interview. “We just put siding on, and we had to get it replaced.’’
The court said that Elaine Dudkiewicz’s husband did the repair work himself and that the youth owes them about $300, money she said she has never really expected to see.
She agreed with the ruling by the Appeals Court. “He should have to do something,’’ she said. “He should take some responsibility for what he did.’’