Judge, attorney explain why teens released after car thefts in Midtown

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A handful of juveniles charged with auto thefts and evading arrest are now back on the streets.

On Tuesday, eight teens, including three 13-year-olds, were arrested for stealing cars in Midtown.

Memphis Police say it started at 8 a.m. Monday, when a Hyundai Tucson was stolen from Rembert Street, and then a separate crash happened on Madison Avenue hours later.

RELATED: Three 13-year-olds among eight arrested for stealing cars in Midtown, police say

After a chase, they were all brought in, charged, then released, according to the juvenile courts.

Juvenile Judge Tarik Sugarmon said, in an audio recording, that this could happen for multiple reasons.

He explained that once they’re brought in to the detention center a Detention Alternative Tool score, or DAT score, is used to determine whether they remain in custody.

“If youth is below the score of 19, then they are released,” Sugarmon said. “You look at the offenses, prior contact with the court, and the age of the individual. If it’s above that, then they’re detained, and then within 72 hours, that youth comes before a magistrate. Magistrate looks at the affidavit, here’s the proof, and makes a determination based on probable cause on whether or not to detain that youth further or release them.”

For criminal attorney Andre Wharton, who defends juveniles as well, he said they are generally released for non-violent crimes, like thefts or vandalism.

But there are instances where they are kept in custody.

“Any crimes that are against a person. So, you know, murder obviously is an obvious example. Aggravated robbery, aggravated burglaries are against property. But that’s one of the specific crimes that is listed in the actual state’s statute governing detention,” he said.

With 114 spots at the youth detention center and short staffing, there’s more juveniles committing crime than the center can handle.

So Wharton said in some cases, judges and attorneys sometime have to make the decision to send some of them home under strict supervision.

“They’ll look at the home situation. And it may be a scenario where they require ankle monitors. They may require a GPS device. They may exclude the child from going in a particular radius of the alleged victim’s location, their residence, or their place of work. So they may require a curfew,” he said.

Wharton added that some are not released back to their parents depending on their home situation. “So very often the attorneys will present a plan to the judge that includes a home safety plan which says, look, my client is going to live with ‘Aunt Edy’ and Aunt Edy is going to take care of him. And here’s Aunt Edy. She’s been in the community for 35 years and she’s raised the younger brother, was an honor roll student.”

There was one 18-year-old in the group who was also released of his own recognizance.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story said sheriff’s deputies determine the DAT score, but FOX13 has since learned that it’s unclear who is currently responsible for issuing the score as the juvenile system works on changes in policies under a new administration.