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Gary Younge
Alleged rabbit thief, 9, seized

According to the arrest report, a Pasco County sheriff's deputy found the black-and-white rabbit, Oreo, hopping around in the girl's living room. She was read her rights and taken away in a patrol car.

The girl broke down under questioning on Tuesday and confessed to taking the rabbit belonging to another child. She denied taking two $5 bills and some change, according to reports.

Asked by the St Petersburg Times whether this was standard procedure, a sheriff's spokesman, Kevin Doll, said: "To arrest burglars? Sure."

Mr Doll added that if the victim of a crime wanted an arrest, deputies were required to act if there was enough evidence.

"Somebody entered a residence without permission and stole money and a pet rabbit. That's burglary," Doll said. "I don't know what other explanation you need. Nine years old is enough to know right from wrong."

Cecka Green, of the advocacy group Voices for Florida's Children, said: "To treat children as hardened criminals, when back in the old days that may have just been seen as mischief that could have been handled by the parents, can contribute to some problems with our kids in this society."

The girl was released to her mother from a juvenile assessment centre about an hour after her arrest.

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