Beeper owner sentenced to probation and service State law prohibits devices in schools

September 23, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

Westminster High School senior Anthony L. Beacham was grateful to be free yesterday after a Carroll District Court judge convicted him of having a beeper at school.

"I really thought I was going to jail," the 18-year-old said. "I'd never done anything wrong before, but I want to tell other students that you don't want to get caught with a beeper in school, especially if you have a future planned."

Mr. Beacham's future now includes 10 hours of community service and a year of supervised probation stemming from the misdemean- or conviction. Although District Judge Joann Ellinghaus-Jones gave Mr. Beacham probation before judgment -- so the conviction will not appear on his criminal record after he completes probation -- the sentence could delay his entry into the Navy next July.

While the law was designed to hamper young drug dealers trying to keep abreast of phone orders while in class, not all teens using the devices are in the drug trade, officials acknowledge. Of about 14 million beepers in use nationwide, an increasing number are inactivated ones being bought by fashion-conscious teens eager to be part of a growing fad.

The General Assembly enacted the beeper law, which applies only to students in public schools, in 1989. Violators -- like Mr. Beacham -- could be sentenced to six months in jail or fined $2,500.

During Mr. Beacham's 90-minute bench trial, Assistant State's Attorney Christy McFaul presented a half-dozen witnesses, including Mr. Beacham's 17-year-old co-defendant.

"Beepers are involved in illegal activity," Ms. McFaul said in her closing argument, though she admitted that she had no evidence to suggest Mr. Beacham did anything wrong other than possess a beeper.

Ms. McFaul -- who refused to talk to reporters after the trial -- argued against probation before judgment for Mr. Beacham and objected to his request for shorter probation so that his Navy career would not be put on hold.

"This needs to be a conviction on his record," she told the judge.

Judge Ellinghaus-Jones told Mr. Beacham to come back and request a shorter probation in May.

Mr. Beacham -- a B and C student without any prior school disciplinary record -- was arrested May 4 after school officials found a beeper on a 17-year-old. That student -- whose name is being withheld because of his age -- said he got the beeper from Mr. Beacham, who was selling it to him for $20.

Mr. Beacham was searched and questioned by state police Tfc. Gregory A. Cullison. He admitted giving the beeper to the other student.

The other student was charged as a juvenile and ordered to do 10 hours of community service.

Judge Ellinghaus-Jones conceded that she didn't know of the school beeper ban until yesterday, and she could not recall any other such case making it to court.

Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman could not be reached yesterday -- by telephone or his beeper -- to comment on how many times his office has invoked the law.

The state attorney general's office didn't know how many -- if any -- beeper cases have been prosecuted.

And officials from two Baltimore-area electronic paging companies couldn't recall ever hearing about cases against students caught with the increasingly ubiquitous devices.

"This is the first time I've ever heard of a trial from this," said Donna Actisdano, an office administrator for American Paging in Arbutus.

Brian Miller, vice president and general manager of PageNet of ++ Maryland in Owings Mills, wasn't aware of the law.

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