30 days in jail for throwing paper airplane

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Jennifer
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30 days in jail for throwing paper airplane

Post by Jennifer » 26 Jan 2017, 14:46

Huh -- here's a story which has grounds for actual debate (as opposed to a straightforward "Holy shit, this is pure awfulness") -- a teenager was arrested and is facing 30 days in jail for throwing a paper airplane in class.
Georgetown County, South Carolina, sheriff's deputies arrested a 17-year-old for throwing a paper airplane at a teacher. The teen was charged with third degree assault and battery, and faces 30 days in jail.

It's not quite as crazy as it sounds. The paper airplane struck the teacher, Edward McIver, in the eye. McIver had recently had eye surgery, according to the South Strand News.

What's more, the teen—David Michael Elliott—had a record of misbehavior in the classroom. When confronted, he admitted he threw the airplane at McIver, and defended himself by saying that he had meant to hit McIver in the head, rather than the eye. He offered no further justification for the misdeed.

Eye surgery hurts—I know, I've had it—and taking a paper airplane in the eye sounds pretty awful. This kid seems like he has a real problem, and some kind of harsh disciplinary measure would have been well justified.
Given the circumstances, I can't say I'm inherently opposed to this (though I agree that if someone has behavioral issues, putting that someone in jail isn't likely to improve them).

Though experiment: I live in a third-floor apartment with a balcony/patio, and though I haven't checked the lease about this, I'm sure there's some rule a la "Don't throw things off the edge of the balcony." Suppose I ignore this, throw a small rock off the balcony and it hits someone on the head (but does not kill this person, nor cause permanent brain damage) -- should I not be liable because I "only" intended to violate the no-throwing rule, but did not intend for that rock to hit anybody? What if I do this at the age of 17? What if I do this at 17 and it's far from my first "offense"?
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Re: 30 days in jail for throwing paper airplane

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 26 Jan 2017, 14:50

You would be liable whether there were such rules or not.

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Re: 30 days in jail for throwing paper airplane

Post by Jennifer » 26 Jan 2017, 14:56

D.A. Ridgely wrote:You would be liable whether there were such rules or not.
Agree. Thing is, the people arguing that this kid shouldn't get in trouble because he "only" intended to hit the teacher in the head, not the eye -- well, results often matter more than intentions. Going back to the balcony example -- and pretending I'm only 17 (heck, we can even go further and assume I'm talking about a balcony on school grounds, during school hours -- or tossing something out a third-story window at the school): if you throw something off the balcony or out a window and it lands harmlessly on the ground, you'd expect to get merely a "slap on the wrist," whereas the exact same action resulting in the thrown object hitting someone on the head would result in a harsher penalty, for reasons which strike me as fairly obvious: in the first instance, nobody got hurt, but in the second instance, somebody did.
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Re: 30 days in jail for throwing paper airplane

Post by Mo » 26 Jan 2017, 15:10

Wedging school choice into the story seems like a massive stretch. I doubt there would be much difference if the exact same situation happened in a charter school.
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Re: 30 days in jail for throwing paper airplane

Post by Jennifer » 26 Jan 2017, 15:15

Mo wrote:Wedging school choice into the story seems like a massive stretch. I doubt there would be much difference if the exact same situation happened in a charter school.
If anything, I suspect a charter school would've kicked this 17-year-old out before this, due to his ongoing "behavioral problems."
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Re: 30 days in jail for throwing paper airplane

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 26 Jan 2017, 15:17

Mo wrote:Wedging school choice into the story seems like a massive stretch. I doubt there would be much difference if the exact same situation happened in a charter school.
If he was a known behavioral problem, he probably wouldn't still be in a charter school by now or else in one specializing in disciplinary problems.

Of course, there's a world of difference between facing criminal charges even if they're only 3rd Degree A&B and facing tort liability for whatever harm caused. In most charter schools I would imagine there would not be a resident cop, vastly reducing the likelihood of arrest, let alone prosecution.

Regardless, the teacher can always sue the kid and probably his parents for damages.

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Re: 30 days in jail for throwing paper airplane

Post by Sandy » 26 Jan 2017, 15:31

D.A. Ridgely wrote:
Mo wrote:Wedging school choice into the story seems like a massive stretch. I doubt there would be much difference if the exact same situation happened in a charter school.
If he was a known behavioral problem, he probably wouldn't still be in a charter school by now or else in one specializing in disciplinary problems.

Of course, there's a world of difference between facing criminal charges even if they're only 3rd Degree A&B and facing tort liability for whatever harm caused. In most charter schools I would imagine there would not be a resident cop, vastly reducing the likelihood of arrest, let alone prosecution.

Regardless, the teacher can always sue the kid and probably his parents for damages.
Would in loco parentis undermine his suit? He's effectively acting as parent, and I don't think parents can sue minor children.
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Re: 30 days in jail for throwing paper airplane

Post by JD » 26 Jan 2017, 15:34

This story, with the teacher recently having undergone eye surgery, reminds me of the eggshell skull rule, which basically holds that someone who harms another is responsible for the full extent of that harm even if they couldn't have known about it in advance. The name comes from the hypothetical situation in which you bop someone on the head, and an ordinary person would hardly have been injured, but unbeknownst to you, the victim of your bop had a skull as thin as an eggshell, and dies.

I always thought that the eggshell skull rule was a tricky thing. On the one hand, I understand the principle behind making someone fully responsible for the injury that they cause. On the other hand, if I give Fred a friendly tap on the shoulder, the same as I do to everyone else, and because of Fred's rare genetic disorder, this causes him to have a seizure and die, it hardly seems fair to punish me as harshly as if I had intended to kill him.
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Re: 30 days in jail for throwing paper airplane

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 26 Jan 2017, 15:36

Sandy wrote:
D.A. Ridgely wrote:
Mo wrote:Wedging school choice into the story seems like a massive stretch. I doubt there would be much difference if the exact same situation happened in a charter school.
If he was a known behavioral problem, he probably wouldn't still be in a charter school by now or else in one specializing in disciplinary problems.

Of course, there's a world of difference between facing criminal charges even if they're only 3rd Degree A&B and facing tort liability for whatever harm caused. In most charter schools I would imagine there would not be a resident cop, vastly reducing the likelihood of arrest, let alone prosecution.

Regardless, the teacher can always sue the kid and probably his parents for damages.
Would in loco parentis undermine his suit? He's effectively acting as parent, and I don't think parents can sue minor children.
It's an interesting question and, of course, parents don't usually tend to sue their own children if only because they rarely have deep pockets, as we say in the law biz. I suppose the easy, lazy answer is that if you assume one set of facts and state tort law decisions, you get one answer; change any or all of them and the answer may also change.

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Re: 30 days in jail for throwing paper airplane

Post by Jennifer » 26 Jan 2017, 16:23

JD wrote:This story, with the teacher recently having undergone eye surgery, reminds me of the eggshell skull rule, which basically holds that someone who harms another is responsible for the full extent of that harm even if they couldn't have known about it in advance. The name comes from the hypothetical situation in which you bop someone on the head, and an ordinary person would hardly have been injured, but unbeknownst to you, the victim of your bop had a skull as thin as an eggshell, and dies.

I always thought that the eggshell skull rule was a tricky thing. On the one hand, I understand the principle behind making someone fully responsible for the injury that they cause. On the other hand, if I give Fred a friendly tap on the shoulder, the same as I do to everyone else, and because of Fred's rare genetic disorder, this causes him to have a seizure and die, it hardly seems fair to punish me as harshly as if I had intended to kill him.
I'd speculate that the difference between your hypothetical with Fred versus the eggshell skull rule, is that a "friendly tap on the shoulder" is an ordinary commonplace thing which is not intended to cause even temporary pain, whereas a "bop on the head" is not. Even if I "only" intended for you to feel a momentary twinge of pain from that bop on your head, I don't have any right to make you feel that moment of pain in the first place. (Plus, as a practical matter, if someone had a genetic disorder so severe that even the slightest physical contact would result in death or even permanent injury, well, that unfortunate person has a serious disability, and likely can't be out in public anyway. I don't deliberately make physical contact with strangers, but I've certainly bumped into people accidentally, and have been accidentally bumped into in turn, especially in crowded places.)

In other words: it's unreasonable for anybody to go out amongst other people and expect to never experience even the slightest glancing physical contact with another person, but it is reasonable to expect to go out without having other people bop you on the head.
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Re: 30 days in jail for throwing paper airplane

Post by fyodor » 26 Jan 2017, 17:29

Jennifer wrote:
JD wrote:This story, with the teacher recently having undergone eye surgery, reminds me of the eggshell skull rule, which basically holds that someone who harms another is responsible for the full extent of that harm even if they couldn't have known about it in advance. The name comes from the hypothetical situation in which you bop someone on the head, and an ordinary person would hardly have been injured, but unbeknownst to you, the victim of your bop had a skull as thin as an eggshell, and dies.

I always thought that the eggshell skull rule was a tricky thing. On the one hand, I understand the principle behind making someone fully responsible for the injury that they cause. On the other hand, if I give Fred a friendly tap on the shoulder, the same as I do to everyone else, and because of Fred's rare genetic disorder, this causes him to have a seizure and die, it hardly seems fair to punish me as harshly as if I had intended to kill him.
I'd speculate that the difference between your hypothetical with Fred versus the eggshell skull rule, is that a "friendly tap on the shoulder" is an ordinary commonplace thing which is not intended to cause even temporary pain, whereas a "bop on the head" is not. Even if I "only" intended for you to feel a momentary twinge of pain from that bop on your head, I don't have any right to make you feel that moment of pain in the first place. (Plus, as a practical matter, if someone had a genetic disorder so severe that even the slightest physical contact would result in death or even permanent injury, well, that unfortunate person has a serious disability, and likely can't be out in public anyway. I don't deliberately make physical contact with strangers, but I've certainly bumped into people accidentally, and have been accidentally bumped into in turn, especially in crowded places.)

In other words: it's unreasonable for anybody to go out amongst other people and expect to never experience even the slightest glancing physical contact with another person, but it is reasonable to expect to go out without having other people bop you on the head.
Yeah, while DAR would know this better, I'm guessing that while that link only speaks vaguely of when you "harm" someone, I think you probably have to be doing something already considered "wrong" in some sense for that rule to apply. Once it's established that you were doing something wrong, THEN the amount of harm actually done can be considered in adjudicating the punishment, as opposed to only the amount of harm that was intended.

That said, one might argue that the eggshell rule is wrong even applied thusly for the same reason, ultimately, that it would be wrong in JC's example, that the amount of harm was incidental to the act when it goes beyond what a reasonable person might expect to ensue from the act. That said, I don't know if I would go further than JC went when calling it tricky. Maybe it should apply to tort law but not criminal?
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Re: 30 days in jail for throwing paper airplane

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 26 Jan 2017, 19:16

fyodor wrote:
Jennifer wrote:
JD wrote:This story, with the teacher recently having undergone eye surgery, reminds me of the eggshell skull rule, which basically holds that someone who harms another is responsible for the full extent of that harm even if they couldn't have known about it in advance. The name comes from the hypothetical situation in which you bop someone on the head, and an ordinary person would hardly have been injured, but unbeknownst to you, the victim of your bop had a skull as thin as an eggshell, and dies.

I always thought that the eggshell skull rule was a tricky thing. On the one hand, I understand the principle behind making someone fully responsible for the injury that they cause. On the other hand, if I give Fred a friendly tap on the shoulder, the same as I do to everyone else, and because of Fred's rare genetic disorder, this causes him to have a seizure and die, it hardly seems fair to punish me as harshly as if I had intended to kill him.
I'd speculate that the difference between your hypothetical with Fred versus the eggshell skull rule, is that a "friendly tap on the shoulder" is an ordinary commonplace thing which is not intended to cause even temporary pain, whereas a "bop on the head" is not. Even if I "only" intended for you to feel a momentary twinge of pain from that bop on your head, I don't have any right to make you feel that moment of pain in the first place. (Plus, as a practical matter, if someone had a genetic disorder so severe that even the slightest physical contact would result in death or even permanent injury, well, that unfortunate person has a serious disability, and likely can't be out in public anyway. I don't deliberately make physical contact with strangers, but I've certainly bumped into people accidentally, and have been accidentally bumped into in turn, especially in crowded places.)

In other words: it's unreasonable for anybody to go out amongst other people and expect to never experience even the slightest glancing physical contact with another person, but it is reasonable to expect to go out without having other people bop you on the head.
Yeah, while DAR would know this better, I'm guessing that while that link only speaks vaguely of when you "harm" someone, I think you probably have to be doing something already considered "wrong" in some sense for that rule to apply. Once it's established that you were doing something wrong, THEN the amount of harm actually done can be considered in adjudicating the punishment, as opposed to only the amount of harm that was intended.

That said, one might argue that the eggshell rule is wrong even applied thusly for the same reason, ultimately, that it would be wrong in JC's example, that the amount of harm was incidental to the act when it goes beyond what a reasonable person might expect to ensue from the act. That said, I don't know if I would go further than JC went when calling it tricky. Maybe it should apply to tort law but not criminal?
The so-called eggshell rule does apply to tort law and not to criminal law, though I suppose some overzealous prosecutor might bring some sort of reckless endangerment charges or, should the harmed person die, maybe negligent homicide, but who knows? FWIW, in the ancient days of the Common Law, both criminal and tort law arose simultaneously beginning with such obscure pleadings as trespass upon the case and stuff I've long ago forgotten.

Anyway, state legislatures and courts have applied the Common Law in varying degrees and with different resulting rules, so it's pretty unlikely that a casual touching resulting in grave physical harm would result in any serious tort liability unless the alleged tortfeasor was on notice because from knowledge comes duty, but I couldn't say for sure.

Would the touching have to be intentional or would negligence suffice to find against the defendant? Well, again, at Common Law any unprivileged touching constituted battery, an intentional tort and crime. For those playing at home who care what assault was at Common Law, it was intentionally putting someone in apprehension of an imminent unprivileged touching, a distinction that Torts professors have been trying to fool 1Ls about since the dawn of the Law School version of the Socratic Method. This is possibly good cocktail small talk, but most states have codified criminal assault and battery with different definitions and their civil courts have interpreted and applied the old Common Law intentional torts differently, one of the ever shrinking reasons lawyers are not licensed nationally.

Similarly, while the elements of the tort of negligence are the same in all the Common Law states, i.e., failure to meet a duty of care proximately causing legally cognizable harm to others, they may have significantly different case law over time regarding what the duty of care might be, some variation on proximate cause and what constitutes legally cognizable harm. Emotional harm, for example, tends to be a nonstarter except in egregious cases.

So, after all that, the answer remains who knows? Bear in mind that even where such a case makes it to a jury, who knows what the jury will decide?

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