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As reported by New York Daily News, a 10-year-old Houston girl faces charges of aggravated sexual assault after playing doctor with a young boy in her apartment complex.
The girl — identified as “Ashley” — was playing with other children in her apartment complex’s courtyard in April when a witness reported that she inappropriately touched a 4-year-old boy “in his private area,” according to Fox affiliate KRIV.
The family contends Ashley, who was 9 at the time of the incident, is innocent.
It wasn’t until two months later in June when the Houston Police Department began investigating the case.
The then 9-year-old spent four nights in the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center, after the sex crimes unit denied Ashley’s mother the opportunity to attend the 45-minute interview between the girl and authorities.
The charging and detention of ten-year-old Ashley presents a number of procedural questions that have plagued the juvenile justice system since its creation. Title 3 of the Texas Family Code, the Juvenile Justice Code, provides that children, under the age of 10, cannot be charged with or punished for criminal acts. Nine years old when the incident occurred, Ashley falls outside the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, which calls for the accused to be ten-years-old at the time of the alleged offense.
Along with questions of jurisdiction, Ashley was detained for four nights in the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center. The juvenile court typically reserves detention as a last resort for particularly problematic or violent offenders. Ashley, playing doctor, allegedly touched another child inappropriately. But the Houston Police Department (“HPD”) waited two months before investigating charges against Ashley, indicating that HPD didn’t view Ashley as a dangerous or imminent threat to society.
Finally, HPD did not allow Ashley’s mother to accompany her during a 45-minute interview between the girl and authorities. While the Texas Family Code provides that the child must explicitly request counsel, it does not account for the presence of a parent. Ashley, a ten-year-old, couldn’t be expected to request or even ascertain the need for counsel.
The issues of jurisdiction and detention make this case ripe for investigation. Hopefully, this young girl will get the justice she deserves, while also being appropriately punished for the alleged offense.