May 23, 2013
Arresting Our Children

As if Cameron D’Ambrosio wasn’t bad enough, Kristen Gwynne tells us about another kid being arrested after being entrapped by an undercover police officer pretending to be his friend:

Doug and Catherine Snodgrass are suing their son’s high school for allowing undercover police officers to set up the 17-year-old special-needs student for a drug arrest.

In a video segment on ABC News[his parents] say they were “thrilled” when their son — who has Asperger’s and other disabilities and struggled to make friends — appeared to have instantly made a friend named Daniel.

“He suddenly had this friend who was texting him around the clock,” Doug Snodgrass told ABC News. His son had just recently enrolled at Chaparral High School.

"Daniel," however, was an undercover cop with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department who "hounded” the teenager to sell him his prescription medication. When he refused, the undercover cop gave him $20 to buy him weed, and he complied — not realizing the guy he wanted to befriend wanted him behind bars.

The young man is not alone in being targeted:

In December, the unnamed senior was arrested along with 21 other students from three schools, all charged with crimes related to the two officers’ undercover drug operation at two public schools in Temecula, California (Chaparral and Temecula Valley High School). 

Thankfully, the judge overseeing the case ruled that the 17-year old could not be expelled.  But that doesn’t erase the emotional trauma and psychological anxiety he must’ve endured when he realized he was being arrested for buying $20 worth of weed for someone he thought was his only friend.

When I was in high school, one of the kids on my football team got caught with weed in his locker.  The school didn’t call the cops.  He wasn’t arrested.  They dealt with it internally.  He was booted from the team and given a suspension. He returned to school a week or two later.  That was the end of it.

Even if we assume that the cops in this case are doing a service to the community by trying to keep drugs out of schools, the proper thing to do here isn’t to arrest the kids.  Even expulsion is harsh.  How many adults used fake ID’s to buy beer when they were teenagers?  How many people opted for a five-finger discount on a candy bar or a pack of baseball cards when they were young?  These are, at worst, dumb mistakes that many people make growing up.  Teenagers are not exactly known for their maturity, judgment, or impulse control.  

The way to deal with this behavior is not by putting handcuffs on our children, and exposing them to what Justice Roberts once called “the terrifying force of the criminal justice system.” (See Robinson v. United States ex rel. Watson, 130 S. Ct. 2184, 2185 (2010)).  Being arrested is an incredibly fear-inducing experience, particularly for a kid, and almost certainly more-so for a kid with special needs.  Even full grown adults collapse into tears at the prospect of being arrested and thrown in jail.  It is a humiliating experience, one fraught with various anxiety-inducing accouterments, and liable to inflict psychological damage on those that endure it.  That damage was inflicted on 21 kids in California when police decided to slap cuffs on their wrists rather than letting the school and the parents handle it.

And that’s what’s really at the heart of the matter.  Pressing criminal charges against someone is a big deal.  A huge deal.  When you arrest someone, you’ve potentially changed their life forever, even if the charges are later dismissed.   Moreover, at some point, you will  be placed at the mercy of a prosecutor.  Justice Jackson wrote in 1940 that The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America.”   That statement remains true today, particularly in an era where America incarcerates more people, by far, than any other nation in the world.

We’re not improving these kids’ lives by taking this approach.  Penn Jillette put it best when he discussed the Obama administration’s drug policy:

Do we believe, even for a second, that if Obama had been busted for marijuana — under the laws that he condones — would his life have been better? If Obama had been caught with the marijuana that he says he uses, and ‘maybe a little blow’… if he had been busted under his laws, he would have done hard f*cking time. And if he had done time in prison, time in federal prison, time for his ‘weed’ and ‘a little blow,’ he would not be President of the United States of America. He would not have gone to his fancy-a** college, he would not have sold books that sold millions and millions of copies and made millions and millions of dollars, he would not have a beautiful, smart wife, he would not have a great job. He would have been in f*cking prison, and it’s not a god damn joke.

 Do we believe that any of these 21 kids are better off for having been arrested and subject to the “terrifying force of the criminal justice system?”  I have a hard time believing it, even for a second.


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    These kid’s lives have been destroyed whether they are let go or not. Never again will they have the opportunity to...
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