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Playing the age-guessing game

Playing age-guessing games is just one of the ways to waste time online. Or maybe it should be a new investigative tool for law enforcement. It turns out that age, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

A case of mistaken identity turned on a suspect’s age, in a case released today by Big Stone Gap U.S. District Court Judge James P. Jones. One Michael D. Durham had been thrown into the Wise County jail for 90 days, before his lawyer could convince a prosecutor that Durham, who lived in Memphis, Tenn., was not the Michael D. Durham fingered by a confidential informant working with a regional drug task force.

After Michael Dwayne Durham persuaded police to go after Michael David Durham, who lived in Wise County, the Memphis resident sued David L. Horner for violating his civil rights. Now chief of police in Big Stone Gap, Horner was a county deputy when he worked for the drug task force.

The similarity in names was not the only point of confusion.

The CI said the drug dealer was “an old man.” Memphis Michael was 45 years old, and the real suspect is age 60.

Maybe Memphis Michael looked old for his years, the court said. Maybe “the CI believed, as many young people do, that anyone approaching middle age is ‘old,'” Jones said in his Dec. 7 opinion in Durham v. Horner.

Horner politely noted that in his experience, peoples’ estimates of age often are inaccurate.

Neither the 15-year-age difference nor other distinctions undercut the defendant deputy’s good faith, Jones said. He dismissed Durham’s § 1983 complaint.

By Deborah Elkins

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