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Is this legal?

  1. Apr 27, 2007 #1
    Here's an interesting piece of news I found today:

    Student charged for writing violent essay

    Apparently a student wrote a violent essay for a creating writing assignment, and he's being criminally charged. The maximum jail time is 30 days.

    I'm no legal expert, but I'm quite surprised to hear this. The article doesn't mention any threat directed at a particular individual or organization (though he did possibly make an indirect threat). Is it legal to criminally charge him for writing this? After all, many modern musicians write lyrics that are far worse, and they are protected under free speech laws. I don't take any particular position on whether or not it's right to charge this guy, but if anyone knows, I'd honestly be interested to know more about the legal aspects of this. What boundaries are there on free speech, and why do they seem to be more restrictive for high school students?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 27, 2007 #2


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    This is ridiculous. Talk about over reacting. You can be arrested for bad taste now?

    At most, a visit to a counselor to see if the kid shows signs of behavioral or mental problems. So far it seems this kid has no history of problems?
  4. Apr 27, 2007 #3
    Well it's good to know that I'm not the only one taken aback by this. Again, I'm not going to say with certainty that he shouldn't be charged: first because I don't know the specific details on the pertinent laws, and secondly because I don't know if this kid has a history of violent behavior, or if this essay was accompanied by some violent action. But I never thought that you could get arrested for writing violent literature.
  5. Apr 27, 2007 #4


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    If you could, there wouldn't be very many movies or tv shows, would there?

    There must be more to the story.
  6. Apr 27, 2007 #5
    This is a gray area here. While the student is 18 and enjoys the full protection of the Consitution, he is also a student. There is precedent for students having some rights onerously suppressed (free speech among them.)
    See http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_stud.html
    Personally, I think it is an overreaction to what happened, and if he is in any way punished, I'm sure it will be challenged in court since he is 18. Whether it stands up or not is yet to be seen.
  7. Apr 27, 2007 #6


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    Nooo...... the school can take away a kids rights, but only within the school's authority. The school can't decide to make jailtime a punishment
  8. Apr 27, 2007 #7
    The charge is disorderly conduct? In what way is writing an assignment disorderly conduct? I can't possibly stick. Whoever approved this charge may have been looking for political gain. Either that, or it's an overreaction because someone wants to do something, anything, just in case this student is another Cho, possibly out of irrational fear. But it should be no surprise post-VT that a student asked to "write whatever comes to your mind. Do not judge or censor what you are writing" would write something like this. The assignment should have been "write what you think I want to read; use appropriate restraint". As it is, it smells like entrapment.

    EDIT: I know it's not legally entrapment (before someone points that out).
  9. Apr 27, 2007 #8
    The school can do whatever they want. The police, on the other hand, need to abide by the First Amendment, and criminal charges are ludicrous. I'd call the ACLU, but apparently they're already involved.
  10. Apr 27, 2007 #9


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    Wow, this is nuts. Theres no way that these charges can stand up in court.
  11. Apr 27, 2007 #10
    This is the result of blind paranoia.

    Why is anyone surprised that local school administrators and police are idiots? Humanity is a race of idiots.
  12. Apr 27, 2007 #11

    Chi Meson

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    My goodness. It's no good to take drastic precautionary measures in the wake of the Va Tech shootings, but it's perfectly reasonable to denounce all school administrators and police in a sweeping blanket overgeneralization?

    Let's read some more about it:
    It appears many smart people are just as capable of rash judgements before the full story is known.

    Without question, the teacher did the correct thing. When such a document is brought before the administrators, they have specific protocol that they must follow. Once the essay (which does contain threatening and distubing language) the police are obliged to take action first. If a mistake must be made, it is better to make the mistake that doesn't end up with dead bodies.
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2007
  13. Apr 27, 2007 #12


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    Arresting the kid just went too far. Per the article you posted, everyone is back peddling now that they realized they over reacted.

    I agree the teacher needed to bring it to the school's attention. Like I said earlier, he should have been sent for evaluation. The school can ask the court to order evaluation, treatment, etc.. if necessary.

    The writing was crap, not creative at all, but copy cat. It was stupid. No, it was idiotic.

    But arrested for disorderly conduct? What good does that do if the kid has emotional problems that need to be treated?

    Looks like the kid is guilty of bad taste and stupidity. This will likely result in a lawsuit. This will make schools hesitant again. The school used poor judgement, IMHO. It could have been handled much better.
  14. Apr 27, 2007 #13
    This is ridiculous. The student is asked to write whatever comes to mind and is punished for his ideas. How surprising is it that the first thing to come to a student's mind recently would be the VT shootings? I guess the other students just had enough fear of the system to edit their thought process. Because we all know good creative writers edit their thoughts to be politically correct.

    Someone needs a goodf kick in the pants.
  15. Apr 27, 2007 #14


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    From the article linked in the OP:
    That sounds like a threat to me, and I think the teacher was right to call the authorities based on that. The police and prosecutor can determine if they want to follow up and file formal charges, but I think you have to take anything like that as a threat. You have to remember that in the wake of something like VA Tech, there can also be other students who have been contemplating something violent who are emboldened by seeing someone else carry it out.

    Once an arrest is made, if there's enough reason to go ahead and press charges, it's possible that a plea agreement can be made that requires psychological or psychiatric treatment, as necessary.
  16. Apr 27, 2007 #15
    But if the threat is what's at issue here, then shouldn't he be charged for making threats rather than for disorderly conduct? It seems like the charge is based on the paper itself, and not specifically on the threat that can be inferred from what he wrote.
  17. Apr 27, 2007 #16
    Well, he's already been kicked out of the marines, and will certainly face consequences at school. The actual charges against him won't hold up in court unless his paper contains some kind of direct threat, which it doesn't appear to.

    "Disorderly conduct" is absurb, considering that his conduct was perfectly fine given the assignment to "write what's on your mind" and told that there will be no censorship or judgement of what is written. It's just that what he wrote is somewhat disturbing, especially when viewed from this state of recent school shooting tragedy, so it is taken more seriously. If you look hard enough you can find much more violent, weird ideas that actually published in your local library or bookstore...
  18. Apr 28, 2007 #17


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    1) The student is an idiot for having done this in the immediate aftermath of Va-Tech.

    2) The teacher is an idiot for having given this sort of unqualified instruction, *specifically* stating "no judgement, no censorship", only to renege on her promise. Same goes for the school principal.

    3) The chief prosecutor is an idiot. There is no call for criminal charges here. Counselling yes, psychotherapy maybe, charges no.

    Summing it up, bad things happen when idiots work in tandem.
  19. Apr 28, 2007 #18


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    It sounds like they arrested him on the basis of the threat, and probably decided they only have sufficient evidence for the lesser charge of disorderly conduct...unless he was disorderly when they arrested him and that's not told in the story. Perhaps he resisted or started to make a big scene, so instead of a prosecutor or judge looking at the charges and the paper and deciding there was nothing to the case and letting him go, they then had to address his conduct between the time the teacher reported the problem and the time he was in custody.

    There are no reports from any witnesses, so we don't know much about what really happened and if there was any other behavior from him to warrant such charges.
  20. Apr 28, 2007 #19

    Chi Meson

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    IF the marines have "kicked him out" (though he was not yet in the marines), then it was due to the very timely psychological profile delivered by the essay. Either this guy has a disturbed psyche, or he finds the wrong this to be funny.

    THe instructions by the teacher regarding "no censorship" would be referring to letting the student not worry if he says a few bad words, or goes into some "suggestive theme." If this led a student to a descriptive rant of homicide, wherein his teacher and his own school is directly identified,... and he calls it a joke. The guy needs deep evaluation, and the Marines need someone else. We cannot tell what has been averted; the evidence of effectively avoiding disaster is never seen. Perhaps this is the best thing that ever happened to him. But we'll never know.

    I do wish that this rarefied group of PFers would rise above the common rabble and stop their rash judgements of those who are constantly faced with "unwinable" decisions.

    Either that, or take your Solomonesque wisdom and become the single "non-idiotic" public servant that you have decided we need.

    Go ahead and look through my history of comments. I try very hard to be nonjudgmental, to be as objective as possible. When I occasionally post an overly-emotional, underly-logical comment I try to qualify and or apologize.

    I will not apologize for the following:
    Some of the comments on this thread are juvenile.
  21. Apr 28, 2007 #20


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    I think writing of disturbing things (and who's to decide that?) as a kid does not mean the same is of your mind. Stephen King and Edgar Allen Poe were once in English classes and I wouldn't be surprised if they dipped into horror in any creative writing to do. He's not exactly Stephen King, but hey, you gotta start somewhere.

    "So I had this dream last night where I went into a building, pulled out two P90s and started shooting everyone, then had sex with the dead bodies. Well, not really, but it would be funny if I did.”

    My first thought is "immature." "So I had this dream" Right, he can't dream now? :biggrin: Maybe just not say what he dreamt if other people do not deem it acceptable.
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2007
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