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The state's chief Family Court judge is urging police chiefs to refer teenage drinking and drug cases to his court instead of to local juvenile hearing boards. Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah Jr. said Family Court provided better services to deal with substance abuse cases. He said moving teenagers out of the hearing boards and into the Family Court system would recognize drug and alcohol use as a "serious and dangerous offense."

"The Family Court has both staff and specialized programs in place to effectively and efficiently handle this serious problem facing our youth throughout the state," Jeremiah wrote in a letter to police chiefs.

The letter follows the death two weeks ago of a 17-year-old Barrington teenager who disappeared in a river while riding a kneeboard pulled by a motorboat. The boat operator, a classmate, faces charges including underage possession of alcohol and refusing to take a breath test.

The hearing boards handle juvenile cases in all but six of Rhode Island's 39 cities and towns, and police departments can decide whether to refer a teenager there or to Family Court.

Typically, Family Court handles more serious charges, and teenagers facing a second offense are also more likely to be sent there.

But Jeremiah is seeking to expand the reach of Family Court by asking police chiefs to refer all cases to Family Court that involve the juvenile equivalent of an adult misdemeanor offense, such as using fake identification to buy alcohol or underage possession of alcohol.

Among the Family Court services Jeremiah cited are organized trips to an emergency room to see the consequences of drunken driving and alcohol-related incidents.


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