The “zero tolerance” idiot parade marches on, leaving innocent people in its wake. This time, it’s a teenage fisherman, and he’s facing felony charges.
We’ve written recently about children who’ve been suspended because of their schools’ zero tolerance policies concerning weapons. Yesterday, that idiocy reached new heights as 17-year-old Cody Chitwood, a student at Lassiter High School in Cobb County, Georgia, was charged with a felony for bringing weapons into a school zone.
The weapons? Fishing knives. They were in his truck. In a tackle box.
Georgia law states that any knife “having a blade of two or more inches” is a weapon, and that anyone who carries a weapon onto school property by that very act is guilty of a crime.
This is an example of a “strict liability” crime—one that does not require that an offender have a culpable mental state in order to be found guilty. Laws of this kind, which are distressingly common nowadays, break with the traditional understanding of criminal law as reserved for those who have done something, well, wrong and deserve punishment.
If the district attorney decides to prosecute, Cody could face a minimum of two years in prison and up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Besides the deprivation of freedom he’d suffer, a felony conviction would be more than enough to compromise his academic career and future job prospects. Cody knows it and has said that he is hoping to get the felony charge dropped so that he can still fulfill his dream of serving in the Air Force.
Thankfully, local legislators have identified the problem. “The public expects the same good common sense they use every day of their lives to apply to the laws of our state, and we as legislators seek nothing less,” said state Representative Ed Setzler (R) in a statement. “We’ll inspect the current state of the law, but our school leaders don’t like it, our law enforcement doesn’t like it, and we’re finding out the citizens who understand the current state of the law certainly don’t like it.” Laws that are thus at odds with the common sense of the community and contain such draconian penalties have no place in any statute book in this country.
It’s no consolation to the victims of absurd laws that those who draft them and enforce them mean well. Cody should not be prosecuted, but the very possibility that he could be charged should serve as an occasion for legal reform. Here’s hoping that Setzler and responsible local officials act quickly before another innocent kid finds himself facing hard time.
The Heritage Foundation’s project USA vs. YOU spotlights the flood of criminal laws threatening our liberties. Explore more stories of overcriminalization and find out what you can do to reverse this trend.