…And so students and their families alike are awakening to the passing of the season. Summer is exiting Massachusetts, and school is beginning. This time, though, things are a bit more serious. First of all, as discussed yesterday, the Boston area seems to be in the middle of a dramatic increase in murder cases. Violent alleged criminals aside, however, what once was not unusual juvenile school behavior will now be viewed under the type of criminal justice microscope that inevitably brings new arrests.
As you will recall, the Massachusetts legislature brought into being a new anti-bullying statute last year. It is now in effect and, because of its vagueness, has school districts scrambling to figure out how to adhere to it.
At the same time, there are attorneys who have adjusted their practices so that they may open the new specialty to capitalize on the new statute and attention on bullying behavior.
Meanwhile, I am a criminal defense attorney with many years of experience. I also am focusing on the new statute and the mess it is about to bring the system. Said mess began when a bunch of kids were indicted last year for bullying activities on which another student’s suicide was originally blamed.
The truth is that, for the most part, what was illegal to do remains illegal to do.
Let’s take some examples:
Vicky Victim starts out at her new high school in Dorchester this week. By week’s end, Patty Pain has taken a severe dislike to Vicky. She walks up to Vicky and whispers in her ear that if she ever sees her outside of school, she will slice her up with a machete.
Meanwhile, Johnny Jock has been overjoyed to see Willie Wimpy return to school. To Johnny, pushing Willie around is great fun and makes him even more popular than he was to begin with. So naturally, Johnny greets Willie with a shove, sending him sprawling into his locker.
Kate Caller has also been a bit of an annoyance this week. She never did like Nancy Nice before, but now that Nancy appears to be more popular than in the past, she really hates her. So, each night, she calls Nancy on her cell phone 4 or 5 times just to call her nasty names I will not repeat here.
Finally, Stuart Smaller returns to high school this week and is greeted by Joey Jerk, who has long been a thorn in Stuart’s side. Joey greets him with, “Hello Smelly Smaller. Just want to remind you that I hate you, you know.”
Now, each of these instances, which vary in severity, can be called bullying behavior. In the past, some of them would have not been taken too seriously. Some parents would complain and some would use it to teach their child that, sometimes, life is unfair and there are behaviorally challenged people out there in reality.
In some of the instances, there may have been low-level disciplinary action taken by the school.
Now each incident had better be investigated and, probably, turned over to the police.
Schools are going to find that the safest thing for them to do is report anything that could potentially be a crime to the police so that the kids can be hauled in and their record sullied.
Now, technically, all these examples can be seen as crimes. Patty has threatened to commit a crime. A misdemeanor. Young Mr. Jock has committed an assault and battery, potentially with a dangerous weapon (the locker), which would raise the matter to a felony. Even Kate Caller has crossed the line into being charged with criminal harassment .
“But, Sam, what about Joey Jerk? I mean, it is mean, but doesn’t he have a right not to like other kids and say so?”
While not an independent crime (yet), the answer is “yes” and “no”. While we claim that he can like or dislike anyone he pleases, he is putting himself at risk by saying anything about it.
It fits the definition of “bullying”.
“Ok, so you are saying that kids now have to be nicer to each other than before. Maybe that is not so bad.”
Maybe. But then, have you known kids of all ages to really appreciate the legalities of such things? You may be interested to know that there are no age differences complicated by the anti-bullying bill. Therefore, all kids are at risk.
Further, like adults, kids sometimes have a rocky relationship with the truth. Therefore, just as angering the wrong adult can land you in trouble in today’s criminal justice system (as we have discussed many times in this blog), we now passing that reality along to our children.
I remind you…one’s arrest goes on one’s record at arraignment and there it may stay for many years, depending on what happens to it.
I will leave the question of whether this is what we truly want to you. However, I must warn you that such things have dangerous consequences for our kids.
Therefore, any allegation against a kid that could be, in any way, considered bullying must be taken seriously by the parents and the child. Yes, this is another area in which I would suggest that an experienced criminal defense attorney be retained to advise and represent the child.
Yes, with the new pressures to do the impossible being brought to the schools, and lawyers now seeking to make the most of it in terms of dollars and cents…it is that serious.
If you would like to discuss such a matter with me, please feel free to call me at 617-492-3000 to schedule a free initial consultation.
Due to the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, there will be no blog posted by me this Thursday and Friday. So, as always, may I wish you a great rest of the week, including a safe and law-abiding one.
For the original story upon which this blog is (partially) based, please go to http://www.masslawyersweekly.com/index.cfm/archive/view/id/457563