Nonprofit Petitions U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Zero Tolerance Case

Last Updated: May 30, 2012

This article appeared in the May 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization, is asking that the U.S. Supreme Court find that the zero tolerance polices used to expel a Spotsylvania, Virginia, student violated his Constitutional right to due process.

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The 14-year-old boy was caught shooting small hollow plastic pellets through an ink pen casing at his fellow students at lunchtime. There were no injuries reported. He was expelled by district officials for “violent criminal conduct” and possession of a weapon, and ultimately charged with criminal assault as a juvenile, which resulted in his placement in a diversion program requiring substance abuse and anger management counseling.

He appealed the disciplinary action to the Spotsylvania Circuit Court with the help of the Rutherford Institute earlier this year. That court upheld the school’s decision. The Supreme Court appeal challenges the “criminal” characterization of the action and whether the homemade shooter was a “weapon,” determinations which subjected the student to the expulsion.

About the case, President of the Rutherford Institute, John Whitehead said, “We have moved into a new paradigm in America where young people are increasingly viewed as suspects and treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike. It is our hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will recognize the need to right the wrongs being perpetrated against young people today in the name of zero tolerance.”

Spotsylvania is a large and fast-growing suburban/rural district located between Washington, D.C., and Richmond.

Local coverage:

Washington Post coverage after the incident this winter:

Read the petition to the Supreme Court here:

Read more from the May 2012 Rural Policy Matters.