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Gun On School Campus Charge Dropped Against 10 Year Old Boy

Gun On School Campus Charge Dropped Against 10 Year Old Boy

Middle school mixes young and immature children with much older children. In this case, a 10-year-old was attending school with 13, 14 and 15 year olds.

On October 2, 2008, a school resource officer received information that a gun was on the campus of Samuel Gaines Academy in Fort Pierce, Florida. The SRO took immediate action to find the persons who might be involved and to seize the suspected gun.

At a bus loading area, a teacher approached a girl named “Shawna” (not her real name) who was 13 years old at the time. Attorney Garland’s 10-year-old client, “Ichabar” (not his real name), was video recorded receiving a backpack from Shawna, walking ten steps, and handing the backpack to two 14-year-old boys.

The police investigation showed that Shawna had displayed what several witnesses described as a “gun” on campus. Witness statements established that the gun had been placed by Shawna into her backpack.

The State theorized that Ichabar was guilty of possession of a firearm on school grounds, possession of a firearm by a minor, carrying a concealed firearm and tampering with evidence, because he transferred a backpack from Shawna to the two 14-year-old boys. In all, five juveniles were charged.

The case consisted of two essential issues:

  1. Was there persuasive evidence that the “gun” seen in the possession of Shawna was actually a “firearm” as defined by law?
  2. Was there persuasive evidence that Ichabar knew, or should have known, that the transfer of a backpack would interfere with an “investigation”?

Attorney Garland interviewed several of the school children who claimed to have seen Shawna with what appeared to be a “gun”. Each of these children could only say that the item looked like a gun. The witnesses could not say that the item was capable of holding or firing bullets. Several of these witnesses had never touched or used a firearm and, therefore, had no basis for distinguishing a toy from a BB gun or a firearm. One student was experienced in firearm use, but still was unable to say whether the item was a firearm, a BB gun or a toy.

The defense investigation solidly challenged any assumption that an actual “firearm” was on campus. Even if the item was not a firearm, police and school officials would have the right and responsibility to investigate.

In this case, there was only an inference that the item might still have been in Shawna’s backpack as she waited for a bus. The teacher who approached Shawna was never told that a suspected gun might be in her backpack. The teacher simply approached Shawna, an action which would be normal on any campus at any time. The teacher did not signal to Shawna, or anyone who might be watching, that an “investigation” was taking place. If there had been an investigation about a gun in a backpack, then why would the teacher not take the backpack?

This case demonstrated the difficulty of applying rules intended for adults to a 10-year-old child.

The State elected to nolle prosequi all four felony charges at the time of trial. In other words, all charges against Ichabar were dropped.