An appeals court spared two school boys from jail on Tuesday after confirming that police had forced them to admit to planning to stealing three dollar hats from female students.
The two were arrested with two other accomplices and charged with robbery for yanking hats off schoolgirls’ heads last September in Hai Phong’s Tien Lang District.
The boys were arrested after two girls filed police complaints for the loss of their cloth and leaf hats, which were estimated to cost VND60,000 (less than $3). During the appeals hearing, one of the girls said police forced her to file her complaint.
The Hai Phong court reduced the punishments against Nguyen Ba Thinh, 16, and Vu Van Loc, 17, to suspended sentences with three years probation, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported.
Thinh, who just finished the ninth grade, was sentenced to 22 months in jail while the tenth grader, Loc, was sentenced to 18 months at his trial last April.
The court upheld the 18-month jail term against Vu Thanh Hung, 17, because prosecutors said he was involved in an assault case in 2012 and was not in a position to receive a suspended sentence.
Hung told VTCNews he only stood by to watch a fight. He said he did not understand why the authorities have waited until now to charge him for his alleged involvement in that fight, which seems like deliberately poor timing for him.
Vu Van Thanh, 18, planned to join the army and did not appeal his three years sentence.
The district made national headlines in January 2012 when a family of farmers battled a military land revocation team with guns and grenades. Though the officials' actions were deemed illegal by the Prime Minister, they involved got off with suspended sentences or probation. The farmers were imprisoned.
The indictment alleged that Thanh planned to steal the hats (for personal use) on September 23, 2013 and asked the others to join him on his motorbike.
The boys gave themselves up four days later and handed in two of the hats and admitting to taking taken three others from girls who never filed a report.
During their appeals hearing, Thinh, Loc and Hung said the police forced them to confess that their hat-stealing escapade was organized and that there were other victims, Tuoi Tre reported.
They said they had no plan to use girls’ hats but only wanted to tease them, that they even turned back to laugh at the girls.
Trinh Thi Thu Ha, one of the two girls, said officers from the Tien Lang District Police Department came to her school several days after the incident and instructed her to write out a complaint in front of a teacher.
Ha told the court she had no intention of filing the complaint herself.
“They turned back and laughed. I also thought that they were just having fun so I smiled back. It’s normal for students to take hats from one another for fun,” the paper quoted Ha as saying.
The boys' lawyer, Nguyen Minh Long, said they deserve “an educational rather than a criminal punishment.”
The court reportedly did not specifically address their allegations of the police misconduct.