West Virginia Teen Faces Jail Time For Wearing NRA T-Shirt To School
An absolutely ridiculous criminal case out of West Virginia.
A teenage boy in West Virginia finds himself facing criminal charges that include jail time as a possible penalty because he wore a t-shirt supportive of the National Rifle Association to school:
When 8th grade Jared Marcum got dressed for school on Thursday he says he had no idea that his pro-Second Amendment shirt would initiate what he calls a over his First Amendment rights.
“I never thought it would go this far because honestly I don’t see a problem with this, there shouldn’t be a problem with this,” Jared said.
It was the image of a gun printed on Jared’s t-shirt that sparked a dispute between a Logan Middle School teacher and Jared, that ended with Jared suspended, arrested and facing two charges, obstruction and disturbing the education process, on his otherwise spotless record.
Jared’s father Allen Lardieri says he’s angry he had to rush from work to pick his son up from jail over something he says was blown way out of proportion.
“I don’t’ see how anybody would have an issue with a hunting rifle and NRA put on a t-shirt, especially when policy doesn’t forbid it,” Lardieri said.
The Logan County School District’s dress code policy prohibits clothing that displays profanity, violence, discriminatory messages and more but nowhere in the document does it say anything about gun images.
And now, he’s facing criminal charges for some reason, which apparently is some kind of crime in West Virginia:
Suspended and arrested after refusing to change his NRA shirt. Today, 14-year-old Jared Marcum appeared before a judge and was officially charged with obstructing an officer.
A $500 fine and up to a year in jail, that’s the penalty that Jared could face, now that a judge has allowed the prosecution to move forward with it’s obstructing an officer charge against him.
The Logan County Police Department initially claimed that the at-the-time 8th grade Logan Middle School student was arrested for disturbing the education process, obstructing an officer and Lardieri says that officers even went as far as threatening to charge Jared with making terroristic threats.
“In my view of the facts, Jared didn’t do anything wrong,” Ben White, Jared’s attorney said. “I think officer Adkins could have done something differently.”
Prosecuting attorney Michael White refused to respond to any questions, as did Logan Police.
We obtained official court documents from both sides of this case. On one hand, the arresting officer from the Logan City Police Department, James Adkins, claims that when Jared refused to stop talking, that hindered his ability to do his job, hence, the obstruction charge. On the other side, Ben White points out that nowhere in the arresting officer’s petition, does it mention Jared ever making any threats or acting in a violent manner.
“Every aspect of this is just totally wrong,” Lardieri said. “He has no background of anything criminal, up until now and it just seems like nobody wants to admit they’re wrong.”
Turning this into a criminal case strikes me as incredibly over the top to say the very least. As noted, it seems pretty clear that the-shirt that Marcum was wearing didn’t actually violate the school’s dress code so it’s not even clear that school authorities were within their authority to demand that he change it. Even if they were, though, getting the police involved in this matter seems like both an abuse of that authority and an over-reaction to what was, at the most a school disciplinary problem and should have been handled as such. Turning the kid over to the criminal justice system, where he could potentially end up with a conviction on his record that will follow long past he graduates High School, is utterly absurd. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this story, though, is the fact that it’s taking place in West Virginia which is one of those states in the nation where the hunting culture is deeply ingrained. No doubt, boys Marcum’s age regularly join their family when hunting season opens, as it has been for many, many years.
There’s another side to this case, though, that makes it even more interesting. Marcum’s family and attorney don’t appear to be making this argument just yet, but it’s arguably the case that he was making a political statement when he chose to wore the NRA t-shirt to school. After all, we’ve been in the middle of a gun control debate for at least the past six months now, and West Virginia’s junior Senator is the chief sponsor of a piece of legislation related to that issue that has been in the public eye for months now. If there was some political intent behind Marcum’s decision to wear that t-shirt on that particular day, then the Supreme Court has ruled rather definitively that it would be within his Constitutionally protected rights to do so.
In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District 393 U.S. 501 (1969), the Court deal with the case of a group of students who were disciplined for taking part in a protest related to the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands to school. In its decision, the Court held that the student’s right to express their political beliefs as protected by the First Amendment outweighed any argument the school could make that its actions were necessary to keep discipline and order in the school:
The school officials banned and sought to punish petitioners for a silent, passive expression of opinion, unaccompanied by any disorder or disturbance on the part of petitioners. There is here no evidence whatever of petitioners’ interference, actual or nascent, with the schools’ work or of collision with the rights of other students to be secure and to be let alone. Accordingly, this case does not concern speech or action that intrudes upon the work of the schools or the rights of other students.
Only a few of the 18,000 students in the school system wore the black armbands. Only five students were suspended for wearing them. There is no indication that the work of the schools or any class was disrupted. Outside the classrooms, a few students made hostile remarks to the children wearing armbands, but there were no threats or acts of violence on school premises.
First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years. In Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923), and Bartels v. Iowa, 262 U.S. 404 (1923), this Court, in opinions by Mr. Justice McReynolds, held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prevents States from forbidding the teaching of a foreign language to young students. Statutes to this effect, the Court held, unconstitutionally interfere with the liberty of teacher, student, and parent. 2 See also Pierce v. Society of Sisters, [393 U.S. 503, 507] 268 U.S. 510 (1925); West Virginia v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943); McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948); Wieman v. Updegraff, 344 U.S. 183, 195 (1952) (concurring opinion); Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234 (1957); Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, 487 (1960); Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962); Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U.S. 589, 603 (1967); Epperson v. Arkansas, ante, p. 97 (1968).
In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school as well as out of school are “persons” under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect, just as they themselves must respect their obligations to the State. In our system, students may not be regarded as closed-circuit recipients of only that which the State chooses to communicate. They may not be confined to the expression of those sentiments that are officially approved. In the absence of a specific showing of constitutionally valid reasons to regulate their speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views. As Judge Gewin, speaking for the Fifth Circuit, said, school officials cannot suppress “expressions of feelings with which they do not wish to contend.” Burnside v. Byars, supra, at 749.
As I said, I have no idea if Marcum and his family would intend to raise a political expression defense if this case were to actually go to trial, but they would seem to have a fairly good case for dismissal if they did. Even if Marcum wasn’t acting politically, though, there’s simply no rational reason for this matter to bring this into the criminal justice system and the school officials, police officer, and prosecuting attorney involved in making that decision really ought to take a step back and bring some common sense into this matter before its too late.