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Texas girls arrested, facing felony charges for making fake Facebook profile
Unclear if students, 12 and 13, remain in custody
July 26, 2012

TEXAS — Two young students in Hood County have been arrested for creating a fake Facebook account using the name of a classmate, and were taken to a juvenile detention facility on felony charges.

The girls, ages 12 and 13, were each arrested July 16 on a count of online impersonation, a third-degree felony, said Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds.

Deeds said the victim’s mother alerted authorities June 28 after she discovered the site. The victim, a girl who did not have a real Facebook page, did not know about the site until it had been active for more than a month, he said. The account had 63 friends before it was shut down.

The profile, which was seized by the sheriff’s office, displayed a photo of a celebrity that resembled the 12-year-old girl. Lt. Johnny Rose of the Hood County Sheriff’s Office said the girls made threats to other students while pretending to be the victim and “damaged the victim’s reputation.” Rose did not say what those threats entailed.

The site was monitored for weeks before the arrest was made, he said, noting the victim figured out who was behind it. After the arrest, the girls were transported to the Granbury Regional Juvenile Justice Center.

What happened next remains a mystery. It is unclear whether the girls are still in detention or if they were given a court hearing.

On Wednesday, Rose said the girls were still being held at the center and were awaiting a hearing with County Court-at-Law Judge Vincent Messina. On Thursday, 10 days after the arrest, Deeds said he believed the girls had attended a hearing and were released, but he could not confirm that. He said the case is now out of the hands of the sheriff’s office.

But Messina has not held any hearings in the case, a staff member in Messina’s office said Thursday. An official from the district court in Hood County said the case had not been heard in that court.

County Attorney Kelton Conner was out of the office until Monday and could not be reached for comment.

According to the county’s website, “if sufficient evidence exists your child may possibly be placed in detention for a 10-day period, with hearings held every 10 days.”

Texas state law, however, appears to entitle juveniles to a detention hearing no later than the second working day following arrest.

As to the current location of the girls, Deeds said the only person who could confirm whether the girls have been released from the center is Beth Pate, the juvenile probation director. Deeds said Pate was on vacation the week of the arrest, and she remained unavailable for comment Thursday.

An official from the juvenile justice center hung up when asked about the girls on Thursday.

Texas’ online impersonation law was enacted in 2009. The law makes it a felony to use the “name or persona” of another person, without their permission, to create a page or send a message on a social networking website “with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten any person.”

Only a handful of cases have been brought under the law. One of the first was dropped earlier this year because the man charged did not live in Texas.

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate with the Student Press Law Center, said he believes the law is unconstitutional – not only in the case of the two girls, but on its face.

“After the ‘stolen valor’ case, it’s hard to see how you can prohibit lying,” he said. “Because this isn’t a law that prohibits what we normally think of as identity theft. And it’s hard to understand what an ‘intent to harm’ is in this context.”

Goldstein referred to a June 28 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a federal law that criminalized lying about receiving military decorations. The Court ruled that lying – without seeking any financial gain – is protected by the First Amendment.

By Sydni Dunn, SPLC staff writer


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© 2012 Student Press Law Center

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