Juvenile Pranks Gone Wrong: What’s Appropriate Punishment?


Kids and adolescents are prone to making mistakes and poor decisions; it’s a fact of life. What isn’t as clear is how they should be disciplined when their youthful acts or “pranks” turn into potential felonies.

Attorney Brad Koffel and our criminal defense team know that all too well. Having represented many kids, adolescents, and young adults, we’ve seen how split-second decisions can pose life-altering consequences, and how juvenile courts have changed over the years to better account for how kids’ experiences with their adjudicated punishments will impact their futures. Still, it’s not always easy to make a decision, and not easy to avoid the strong opinions of some.

One case highlighting how difficult that debacle can be arose last month when news’ sources covered stories about several students from Hyatts Middle School in Powell, Ohio allegedly tainting a teacher’s food with bodily substances.

Attorney Brad Koffel and Koffel Brininger Nesbitt are currently representing four of the accused students, and told The Columbus Dispatch in a recent interview that a fitting punishment would be one which entails “the lowest form of punishment and the highest form of behavioral modification.”

As he goes on to note, administering penalties to children on par with those imposed upon adults is not what our juvenile courts are designed for.

Doing so not only goes against science – which shows parts of the brain responsible for rationality, emotion, and decision-making aren’t fully developed until around age 25 – but also a course of action that focuses less on rehabilitation and reform rather than non-discretionary punishment of the type reserved for adults who knew (or should have known) about the potential repercussions of their decisions and conduct.

“You can’t impute an adult’s conduct to an 8th grader,” Attorney Koffel told the Dispatch. “Fortunately, we have a juvenile court system that’s insulated from the pitchfork public.”

Read the full article featuring Attorney Koffel here.

Juvenile Crime & Punishment

As the article goes on to mention, many counties in Ohio have created diversion programs intended to keep kids who commit offenses out of jail. While discretion varies on a case-by-case basis, non-violent offenders are rarely transferred to places like Franklin Country for incarceration. Program administrators note they instead work to strike a balance between a forceful sentence that grabs a kid’s attention, and overly harsh punishment that sets them up for failure.

Kids who serve their sentences through diversionary programs are often able to avoid what could have been serious charges and penalties. Still, they’re required to complete community service, other juvenile programs, and maintain a clean record in order to participate.

Have questions about kids and crime? Koffel Brininger Nesbitt has decades of experience handling juvenile crimes, Title IX disciplinary proceedings, and other middle school, high school and college cases. Contact us to speak with an attorney.

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