West Virginia Teen Faces Jail Time For Wearing NRA T-Shirt To School

An absolutely ridiculous criminal case out of West Virginia.

ht_nra_shirt_ml_130422_wgA 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.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Guns and Gun Control, Law and the Courts, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. 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.

    So remaining silent is an admission of guilt (as per Salinas v. Texas); refusing to remain silent is obstructing the officer.

  2. But it was a GUN!

  3. Rafer Janders says:

    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.

    If a talking teenager hinders your ability to do your job, then you’re simply not competent to do your job.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    Sounds like the kid lipped off to the cop. That isn’t a criminal offense, and shouldn’t be treated as one. But it often is. If it actually reaches a courtroom, likely the kid or the cop, or both, will get a talking to and charges dropped or a suspended sentence. However, whatever happened, and however it turns out, it’s trivia.

  5. Barry says:

    @Stormy Dragon: “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.”

    Sue the living f*ck out of the police department, the officer and the prosecutor.

    F*ck the f*cking f*ckers.

  6. Mike says:

    Guilty of contempt of cop – the worst offense in the eyes of cops.

    The kid is guilty of bad taste but not much more.

  7. legion says:

    @gVOR08: Except that the kid’s family will be out several hundred to several thousand $$, and the cop will have exactly no consequences whatsoever. This is why people have no respect for the cops in may areas – they are literally no different from the thugs they supposedly pursue.

  8. Anderson says:

    Yeah, I’m all gun control & sh*t, but this is nuts.

  9. David M says:

    “I don’t’ see how anybody would have an issue with a hunting rifle and NRA put on a t-shirt…” Lardieri said.

    Dumb.

    …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.

    And Dumber.

  10. Facebones says:

    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.

    Ah, but you’re forgetting. The Supremes have ruled that students don’t have First Amendment rights.

    I think that ruling was ludicrous, (and I’m sure the student’s lawyer will argue that it doesn’t apply since this is guns, not drugs) but it’s probably not as simple a First Amendment case as you may think. (And this case seems to be utter bullshit and complete CYA by the cop)

  11. @Facebones:

    The Morse case was a bad decision, but it did not overrule Tinker.Indeed, the majority takes pains to distinguish it from Tinker based on the facts of the two cases.

  12. PD Shaw says:

    I think the image of a gun is different than the pure advocacy symbolic speech of black armbands, though the words on the shirt might make all of the difference. Here is 2008 Pennsylvania federal district court case:

    A federal judge ruled this week that Penn Manor School District acted properly when it prohibited a student from wearing a T-shirt with images of guns on it. But the judge ordered the district to strike from its policies restrictions on student expression and dress he deemed “unconstitutionally overbroad and vague” [involving expression that merely is a distraction.’]. Citing the fatal school shootings at Nickel Mines, Columbine and Virginia Tech, U.S. District Judge James Knoll Gardner said that students “have no constitutional right to promote violence in our public schools.”

    . . .

    Gardner, the judge, acknowledged the shirt means a great deal to Donald because it came from his uncle, but he said its message was too violent to be permitted in a school setting. “The language on Donald’s T-shirt advocates the use of force, violence and violation of law in the form of illegal vigilante behavior and the hunting and killing of human beings,” the judge said in his ruling. In most settings, the First Amendment would protect speech that presents a threat of violence, he noted. But a school is a special place, Gardner said. “The impact of violence is so great that it now has equal importance as the issue of illegal drug use in schools,” he said. “There is nowhere that is truly safe or immune from the problem of school violence, from the one-room schoolhouse to America’s largest universities.” “Students,” Gardner said, “have no constitutional right to promote violence in our public schools.”

    I’m not sure I agree with the judge, but I think shirts with prominent images of guns are going to get a student in trouble at many schools these days.

  13. PD Shaw says:

    Oops, should have provided a link.

    @Facebones: I wouldn’t characterize that decision as students do not have First Amendment rights. The paradox in these cases is that private schools have just as many dress code sensitivities as public schools, but only public schools are bound by judicial rulings under the First Amendment. Beyond the technical point that the First Amendment is a restraint on government, a distinction might be that a private school teaches a relatively homogeneous group that share most of the same basic values. How many private schools catering to wealthy liberals ban gun images on shirts? Most? All? Public schools need at least some degree of discretion in maintaining discipline without every article of clothing becoming a federal lawsuit, which is part of what I think animated Morse.

  14. @PD Shaw:

    Citing the fatal school shootings at Nickel Mines, Columbine and Virginia Tech, U.S. District Judge James Knoll Gardner said that students “have no constitutional right to promote violence in our public schools.”

    If we don’t crack down on kids wearing t-shirts with guns drawn on them, we run the risk of one of them deciding to wear a t-shirt with a drawing of a school massacre on it. Won’t anyone please think of the t-shirts with children drawn on them!?

  15. PD Shaw says:

    @Stormy Dragon: From what I can tell from my link, the shirt was a joke shirt, not actually promoting murder, but that’s the problem with a joke shirt — its not that funny the first time and it sure ain’t after several rounds of legal briefs seeking to explain the shirt in the context of the rule of the law, the future of our Democratic institutions and Dave Chappelle.

  16. rudderpedals says:

    When there’s a Resource Officer on the grounds during the first period you can be assured he’ll be used by the last period.

  17. JKB says:

    @Barry:

    Now, the kid’s constant talking hindered his ability to do his job. Nobody is claiming this cop is particularly good at this job or has good job ability. He may need peace and quiet to do his job and must demand a reasonable accommodation. He may have emotional control issues that need accommodation.

    As for the prosecutor, we’ll he’s a lawyer and probably needs to be seen being tough on teenagers to make the next rung in his political career. If you let one teenager talk back, who knows where it’ll end.

    Plus, it was a graphic image of a gun.

    Next time, they need two kids to wear shirts. One a NRA shirt and the other some violent Hollywood movie shirt with an image of gun. Then see who gets arrested.

  18. stonetools says:

    People mouth off to cops and get arrested for that all the time. Because this kid was wearing an NRA T shirt, all the folks who would otherwise been on the side of “law and order” and would have been insisting on “respect for our heroes in blue” are suddenly on the side of free speech. Interesting.

  19. wr says:

    @Stormy Dragon: “Won’t anyone please think of the t-shirts with children drawn on them!? ”

    The highlight of my entire day!

  20. David K. says:

    He was not punished by the school, nor arrested by the police for wearing an NRA t-shirt. He was punished by the school for his behavior after he was asked to remove it (which is allowed both under the law AND the schools dress code policy).

  21. al-Ameda says:

    America continues to dumb down, the 30 year slide continues.

    Kids wear all kinds of t-shirts, many with slogans and phrases that are guaranteed to offend many people – which for many kids is part of the reason why they wear that gear.

    Unless that kid wore an NRA t-shirt that had (in no particular order) Jesus, Buddha, Charlize Theron or Penelope Cruz in the crosshairs, I really do not care at all.

  22. Tyrell says:

    @al-Ameda: Totally correct on the 30 year slide. The last few years it has become a free fall. Some schools have cut out any instruction that mentions weapons such as those used in wars. Talk about revisionism. I guess they now teach that the military used spitballs and paper airplanes. They probably are not allowed to mention wars and battles at all. Our history teachers used to have those awesome posters of Revolutionary and Civil weapons and uniforms; and modern fighter jets like the F14. I guess that would get a teacher arrested now. Our high school also had a competition rifle team but dropped it as interest began to wane. I tell people that and they don’t believe it. Someday maybe it will return.
    I hope the ACLU gets involved in this one.

  23. anjin-san says:

    @ David K

    So it’s ok to take a kid to jail for mouthing off at school? Are you kidding me?

    I would have spent a lot of time behind bars if that were the case.

  24. Rick Almeida says:

    It’s about time the libertarians notice the school-to-prison pipeline in many Southern states. It just took one white kid getting arrested.

  25. Caj says:

    Don’t feel criminal charges should be brought but it shows the idiocy of the child and his parents for allowing him to wear a vile tee shirt like that after all the violent gun death we’ve seen. That is why school uniforms should be mandatory across the country. No child should go to school wearing whatever they like to start with! They are there to learn not be promote their own beliefs or become fashion icons!! Some of the kids today look like disgusting in what they wear outside of school let alone what they are ALLOWED to wear inside of school. After all the child was at SCHOOL not at an NRA gun rally!!!

  26. Franklin says:

    The fact that police were brought in over a t-shirt indicates there was a serious failure on the part of the educator(s). The fact that charges were brought forth over a t-shirt indicates there was a serious failure on the part of the justice system. Since when is talking “obstructing”?

  27. Tyrell says:

    Does a shirt ever affect someone’s behavior? Does anyone go out and by something based on a picture on a shirt, such as a soft drink or beer? I might actually like the shirt and buy one for myself but that is it. If shirts did affect behavior, I would have this slogan on it: “go ahead, make my day!!”

  28. @Caj: Who is to pay for those uniforms?

  29. Daniel says:

    Of course they are going to make it look like the teacher was innocent and didnt do wrong I myself dont see a think wrong with the shirt the young man was wearing there was nothing derogatory, . I thought this was america where we could wear what we wanted to wear you let the teacher say what he wanted to say but not the boy, you know you have some bad teachers that really dont care abut the students, now if that was my child I would be makesure that I filed a law suit involving the school principal law that is just a sample of how crooked the justice system it

  30. Nolan says:

    @Caj:

    I will go for that if the same holds true for the teachers. They teach and leave their liberal views at home. The students their to learn and the teachers to teach.