Ignorance Is No Defense
Ignorance Is No Defense North Carolina
Excerpts from the Book

Below you will find selected excerpts from the book Ignorance is No Defense, A Teenager's Guide to Georgia Law.

Preview the Table of Contents for a full list of topics discussed in Ignorance Is No Defense.


Introduction (pages 1-2)

MY INSPIRATION FOR THIS BOOK comes from working with thousands of youth throughout my career. As a prosecutor for many years, I prosecuted young people who violated the law. I also helped young people who were victims of abuse and prosecuted the abusers. I worked with high school students as a church youth group advisor. I have spoken to many groups of high school students about laws affecting teenagers and listened to their stories. As a private attorney, I defend teenagers who are in trouble with the law.

I have seen a lot, and I have heard a lot, about teenagers who violate the law or who are hurt by others who violate the law. I want to give teenagers the tools to avoid these circumstances.

What I enjoy most about teenagers – their questioning minds and fun-loving spirits – are the qualities that sometimes lead to trouble. Many teenagers stumble into trouble without fully comprehending the law and its consequences. From my experience, teenagers almost never intend to do something hurtful; their acts are often just plain stupid.

Because “ignorance is no defense” to a violation of law, our legal profession has a duty to ensure that teenagers (and parents) are informed about the law. With proper education and understanding, teenagers usually respect and follow the laws.

Unfortunately, teenagers also find themselves in situations where they are victims of crimes. Sometimes teenagers do not even realize that they are victims. Teenagers need to be able to recognize these situations and understand their rights.

I hope that this book will empower teenagers with knowledge about laws that affect them; enable early intervention in problem situations; and prevent problems from arising in the first place. My goal is for teenagers to lead safe, happy, and fulfilling lives – engaging their questioning minds and fun-loving spirits – without encountering the criminal justice system.

Back to Top


Chapter 9: False Identification and Misrepresentation of Age (pages 53-56)

Did You Know?
DID YOU KNOW that possessing a false identification document is a crime in Georgia and may either be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the type and use of the document?

Possessing a false identification with a government logo was made a felony after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. In 2008, the state legislature reduced this crime to a misdemeanor if you are under 21 years old and possess or use the false identification to obtain entry into a bar or to purchase alcohol or cigarettes. However, possessing or using the false identification with a government logo for other purposes, such as cashing a check, obtaining a credit card, or renting a car, is a felony.

POSSESSION OF FALSE IDENTIFICATION OR ANOTHER PERSON’S ID TO PURCHASE ALCOHOL

A false identification document contains inaccurate information about your identity and appears to be issued by a government agency or other official authority but was not actually issued by the government agency or other official authority.

Sometimes teenagers use their own false identification document to misrepresent their age, and sometimes they use another person’s identification document (either false or valid) to misrepresent their age in order to purchase alcohol or be admitted to a bar.

A crime occurs when a person under 21 years old misrepresents the person’s identity or uses any false identification for the purpose of obtaining entry into an age restricted facility (such as a nightclub or bar) or for the purpose of purchasing age restricted consumable goods (such as alcohol or cigarettes).

Type of crime: Misdemeanor
Punishment: Up to 12 months imprisonment and 6- month suspension of learner’s permit or driver’s license for a person under 21 years old.

Pay Attention!
Important Exception: If you possess or use a false identification document which appears to contain a logo or legal or official seal of a government agency for any reason (other than to obtain entry into an age restricted facility or to purchase age restricted consumable goods), then the crime is a felony, and the punishment is 1 to 5 years imprisonment.

If you possess three or more false identification documents – with or without a government logo – for any reason (other than to obtain entry into an age restricted facility or to purchase age restricted consumable goods), then the crime is a felony with punishment of 3 to 10 years imprisonment.

EXAMPLE
A 19 year old college student uses a fake driver’s license with the government logo of the State of Georgia to rent a car for a weekend excursion. The student then drives to a liquor store and uses the fake ID to purchase alcohol. The student will be charged with a felony for using the fake ID to rent a car, punishable by 1 to 5 years imprisonment, and a misdemeanor for using the fake ID to purchase alcohol, punishable by imprisonment of up to 12 months. If the student possessed 3 fake IDs for the purpose of renting cars, then the punishment would be 3 to 10 years imprisonment.

MAKING, SELLING, OR DISTRIBUTING FALSE IDENTIFICATION

A crime occurs when a person makes, alters, sells, distributes, delivers, or possesses with intent to sell false identification documents, regardless of whether the documents have a logo or legal or official seal of a government agency.

Type of crime: Felony
Punishment: 1 to 5 years imprisonment

Pay Attention!
The punishment increases to 3 to 10 years imprisonment if a person makes, alters, sells, distributes, delivers, receives, possesses, or offers for sale three or more false identification documents.

AND PAY ATTENTION AGAIN!! Important Exception for Persons under 21 Years Old: The crime is a misdemeanor if the false identification documents are for the purpose of obtaining entry into an age restricted facility (such as a nightclub or bar) or for the purpose of purchasing age restricted consumable goods (such as alcohol or cigarettes).

Note that this exception only applies if you are under 21 years old. If someone 21 years old or older makes false identification documents to sell or give to you or others who are under 21 years old, even if solely for the purpose of entering an age restricted facility or purchasing age restricted consumable goods, then that person is guilty of a felony, and the punishment is either 1 to 5 years imprisonment (for less than 3 false identification documents) or 3 to 10 years imprisonment (for 3 or more false identification documents).

Also, note that this exception for persons under 21 years old only applies if the purpose of the false identification document is to enter an age restricted facility or to purchase age restricted consumable goods. If the false identification document is for other purposes, then the crime is a felony.

EXAMPLE
An 18 year old college student manufactures more than 3 fake driver’s licenses in her dorm room and sells them to college students in the area for the purpose of underage drinking. The college student is guilty of a misdemeanor. If the college student had been 21 years old, the student would be guilty of a felony, punishable by 3 to 10 years imprisonment. If the same 18 year old college student had intended the fake driver’s licenses to be used to open charge accounts or rent cars, the student would be guilty of a felony, punishable by 3 to 10 years imprisonment.

Back to Top


Chapter 15: Age of Consent and Statutory Rape (pages 95-98)

Did You Know?
DID YOU KNOW that you can be charged with statutory rape even if the other person tells you he or she is 16 years old?

And.....DID YOU KNOW that you can be charged with statutory rape even if the other person under 16 years old consents to have sex?

A 17 year old male honor student at a local high school met the female cousin of one of his neighbors during summer vacation. The cousin was staying in town for several weeks. She told the boy she was 16 years old. He had no reason not to believe her because she looked 16, and she was in the same grade. (She was actually only 15 years old.) They dated several times during the summer and had sexual intercourse.

When the girl went back to her home in another Georgia city, the girl and the boy both started back to school in their own high schools. One morning, the girl’s mother accidentally found her daughter’s diary, and she read about her daughter’s summer romance. (The girl did not leave out any detail!) The mother told her husband, and they both drove to the boy’s town and got a judge to issue a warrant for the boy’s arrest for statutory rape. He was arrested at his home and taken off to jail in handcuffs, where he was locked up with the other adult prisoners.

Even though the boy believed his girlfriend was 16, he was still guilty of statutory rape because she was actually only 15 at the time they had sex.

The legal age for consent to sexual contact in Georgia is 16 years old.

The age of consent for sexual contact in Georgia used to be 14 years old. That is, as long as the person was 14 years old or older, and he or she consented to the sexual contact, in most cases the sexual contact was not a crime. In 1995, the legislature raised the age of consent to 16 years old. When that happened, more teenagers were charged with sex crimes.

Sexual contact means any type of sexual activity, including touching of the other person’s breasts or sexual organs or buttocks, oral sex, or sexual intercourse.

The crime of statutory rape occurs when a person has sexual intercourse with a person under 16 years old.

Did You Know?
DID YOU KNOW that you can be charged with statutory rape regardless of whether you are a girl or a boy?

Statutory rape, unlike rape, is gender neutral. A male or a female can be either a victim or a perpetrator of statutory rape. Consent (permission and willingness) to sexual intercourse is irrelevant.

Type of crime: Felony
Punishment: 1 to 20 years imprisonment

Exception: If the defendant is over 21 years old, the defendant must serve at least 10 years in prison without parole and can be sentenced up to 20 years in prison without parole.

Romeo and Juliet Exception: The legislature passed what is known as the “Romeo and Juliet” exception to the punishment for statutory rape. If the victim is at least 14 years old, and the defendant is 18 years old or younger and is no more than 4 years older than the victim, then the crime is a misdemeanor, and the punishment is up to 12 months in prison. Even though the punishment is a misdemeanor, statutory rape is still a crime, and if you are 17 years old or older, this crime will be part of your criminal history record for the rest of your life.

EXAMPLE
Person A is 16 years old and has sexual intercourse with Person B who is 15 years old. Person A is guilty of misdemeanor statutory rape, and, due to the age of Person A, will be prosecuted in juvenile court.

EXAMPLE
Person A and Person B are both 15 years old and have sexual intercourse. Person A and Person B are both guilty of misdemeanor statutory rape, and, due to the ages of Person A and Person B, will be prosecuted in juvenile court.

EXAMPLE
Person A is 20 years old, and Person B is 15 years old. Person A and Person B have sexual intercourse. Person A is guilty of felony statutory rape, with punishment of 1 to 20 years in prison.

Back to Top


Parent Chapter

Since the first edition of Ignorance Is No Defense, a Teenager’s Guide to Georgia Law was released in 2007, I have had the opportunity to meet not only with hundreds of teenagers, but also their parents regarding the best ways for young people to avoid getting into trouble with the law. Many parents shared with me their own parenting decisions on how to deal with many of the subjects covered in the book. I have compiled their suggestions and recommendations which may be helpful to you as the parent of a teenager.

DRIVING

Personally, I do not believe teenagers should be allowed to drive a car without an adult present until the teenager turns seventeen. Although the law may not change, you as a parent control when your child gets a license. Requiring an additional year of driving under adult supervision might just save a life.

Some parents require their teenager to sign a contract with the parent that specifically details the duties and responsibilities of being allowed to drive a vehicle. It also includes the penalties for any violation of the contract. Download a sample driving contract.

No matter how much pressure your teenager driver puts on you, never permit a teenage driver to transport more passengers than allowed by law or to drive after curfew. Knowingly permitting a teenager to violate the law may increase the parent’s civil liability should an accident occur.

Also, many teenagers have been caught speeding or have been involved in accidents while rushing home before the midnight curfew. Make sure that 1) the teenager allows enough time to arrive home by curfew and 2) your teenager knows that a curfew violation, although not good, is far better than a speeding ticket or an accident.

CELL PHONES/COMPUTERS/TABLETS

There is no magical age when a child should get his/her first cellphone, but initially there should be parental controls and restrictions. First, make sure you always have the password to any electronic device and that your child knows you can, and will, make impromptu inspections, at least until your child is sixteen.

Have discussions with your child before allowing cell phone use regarding phone etiquette, texting, sexting, bullying, and inappropriate photographs on the device.

Require that the GPS on the phone always be activated. Explain to your child it is for his or her safety. Your child deactivating the GPS should be grounds for surrender of the phone.

Be aware of phone apps that allow the user to secretly hide text messages and photographs behind an innocuous looking app such as a calculator (swipe the app to see if anything is hidden).

Until your child is in high school, he or she should be allowed to use only the family computer that is often within eyesight of an adult. Make sure you know what your child is doing on the computer.

OVERNIGHTS

Always call the inviting child’s parents to make certain that an adult, not an older sibling, will be home the entire time your child is a guest in their home.

A parent suggested to me she did not let her sons stay overnight at another teenager’s home until her boys were eighteen. Curfew was at midnight. Her rationale was that home was the safest haven and nothing good happens after midnight. (Remember, a teenager cannot drive after midnight until their eighteenth birthday.) This rule did not apply to out-of-town trips with friends and their parents. Makes sense to me.

SPRING BREAK

Only allow your child to travel with parents you know and trust. There should be a meeting of all the parents and teenagers at the same time to discuss the rules and assign responsibilities: no alcohol, curfew, assignment of chores such as clean-up, washing dishes or helping with the meals. It should be made clear that any teenager caught consuming alcohol or using drugs will be required to have a parent immediately come to the spring break location to get their child and transport that teenager home. If teenagers are driving a car, make certain everyone travels in a caravan, preferably during daylight hours.

DATING

This is a tough one. However, since any contact with the intimate body parts of another person can be child molestation if the person touched is under the age of sixteen, sixteen seems to be an appropriate age to start dating for males and females.

PARTIES SOMEWHERE ELSE

Always, always make certain there will be a parent at the home at all times to supervise the party. Offer to take food or drink to help defray the expense. This way you can make a quick last minute check of the surroundings. One parent told me she always offered the inviting parent her assistance to help supervise the party. She said her suspicions were raised if the inviting parent refused her offer.

PARTIES IN YOUR HOME

First, check your sanity. Did you really let your teenage child talk you into hosting a party for teenagers? Review the invitation list with your child and limit the number of invitees. Try to get names, email addresses, and phone numbers of as many parents as possible.

Solicit the help from other parents to supervise the party.

Make sure your child knows, and that your child has conveyed the message to the guests, that no alcohol will be allowed at the party and that no person with alcohol on their breath will be allowed in the home. (The promise of an alco sensor test if you suspect alcohol may help.) Take car keys from the teenagers as they arrive, and do not return the keys until they are ready to drive home. Make sure everyone knows that if you find out that a guest has consumed alcohol, the teenager will not be allowed to leave your home until the child’s parent has retrieved the child.

Never, never serve alcohol or allow the consumption of alcohol in your home by minors. There can be severe criminal and civil penalties for allowing underage drinking in your home. Your job is to be a good parent, not a cool parent.

Do not allow water bottles and other beverage containers to be brought into the home. Also, there is no reason for teenagers to bring backpacks to a party.

Know that alco sensors can be deactivated. One parent told me her daughters figured out how to deactivate the device. Maybe they became electrical engineers.

Have an end time to the fun and games and keep to it.

ALCOHOL, YOU AND YOUR YOUNG ADULT

Georgia law allows parents to provide alcohol to their own child, and many parents use this opportunity to teach their child how to properly consume alcohol in moderation. Georgia law does not give an age, but I recommend not serving alcohol to a child under eighteen.

The law states that you can only serve your own child in the privacy of your own home. You cannot serve anyone else’s child in your home, even if the other child’s parents are in your home at the time and they serve their child alcohol in their home.

Never allow your child to leave your home after consuming alcohol.

Remember, children learn from example and their best example should be their parents. If you teach your child how to consume alcohol in moderation, you as well should moderate.

MARIJUANA/DRUGS

The drug of choice of many of today’s teenagers is marijuana, even over alcohol. We do not have enough time or space to address all the issues surrounding marijuana. Just know that just because you find out your child has smoked weed, does not mean your child is going to be a drug addict. The best approach is to let your child know all the ramifications of getting busted with pot: possible loss of license, expulsion from school if found at school or at a school function, court and monthly probation, and a criminal record. Do not argue with your child about the health consequences of alcohol v. pot, you will lose.

My great concern for the younger generation is the number of kids we have on prescription drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall. Studies have shown we prescribe more of these drugs to our kids than any other industrialized nation. I am not a doctor, but I do see the consequences of some of these young people becoming addicted to these drugs. If your child fails an algebra exam, it doesn’t mean he has attention deficit disorder. Maybe he is on his way to becoming a lawyer instead of an engineer.

The same advice I give to the kids, I give to you, “Be careful, be safe, but be happy.”

Back to Top


"A criminal record can be devastating for a teenager. Before Ignorance is No Defense, teenagers in Georgia did not have an easy, reliable way to learn about criminal laws that affect them. Now, with J.Tom Morgan’s clear and comprehensive guide to Georgia laws, teenagers can readily access information to help them make wise choices and avoid being on the other side of the law."

Kenneth B. Hodges III
Former District Attorney
Dougherty Judicial Circuit, GA