Each of the 50 states has either statutes or common law rules providing that a person has the right to defend himself from unlawful attack by another. This is a reflection of the understanding of natural law which dictates that all people have the right to be secure in their persons and be free from unprovoked and unjustified attack by another.

RCW 9A.16.020 provides that “[t]he use, attempt, or offer to use force upon or toward the person of another is not unlawful in the following cases . . .  Whenever used by a party about to be injured, or by another lawfully aiding him or her, in preventing or attempting to prevent an offense against his or her person . . .  in case the force is not more than is necessary.”

School students are not protected by all Constitutional rights        

In recent decades, several cases of school discipline have made their way up to the United States Supreme Court, which has consistently decided that school students, while occupying school property, are not protected by the same rights as other citizens such as the right to privacy and freedom from search not based on probable cause. For example, high school students are subject to drug testing that would otherwise be unconstitutional, and school students have no reasonable expectation of privacy in lockers, desk spaces, and duffel bags carried in school.

While the state of Washington is home to school districts that have implemented zero-tolerance policies, the state has taken measures to mitigate the unreasonable conclusions and unduly harsh punishments resulting from some cases by allowing ad hoc investigation and inclusion of the totality of circumstances, some of which might render the act less than harmful.

What is a zero-tolerance policy?

Zero-tolerance policies are sets of rules governing disciplinary procedures in schools that provide mandatory, predetermined punishments for certain offenses. Common zero-tolerance policies provide for suspensions and even expulsions for offenses including the bringing of a weapon to school, possession of drugs of any kind in school, and fighting. These policies are intended to make schools safer places but the absolute nature of the language expressed in these policies precludes the possibility of taking into account circumstances regarding possible mitigating or even exonerating circumstances rendering the act harmless.

Examples of inappropriate actions resulting from zero-tolerance policies include a high school freshman being expelled from school for blowing a plastic pellet through a plastic tube. The pellet struck a fellow student and the tube-pellet combination was interpreted under the policy to be a “weapon.”

A major problem with zero-tolerance policies is that the language in these rules fails to differentiate malicious “fighting” with lawful and reasonable self-defense. It is a basic human right to use reasonable force to repel or stop an unprovoked and unlawful attack made by another student. In order to comply with such policies, a student who cannot physically evade an attacker would be required to submit to a beating in order to not violate the code. This is a major breach in logic. Many cases have arisen in which innocent students have done nothing more than defend themselves from beatings yet have suffered severe punishments that inhibit their education.

Protect your child from unreasonable and unintelligent policies

If your child has suffered an excessively harsh punishment for an innocuous act as a result of the rigid rules expressed in a zero-tolerance school policy, get legal assistance. Do not allow your child’s education, socialization, and criminal good standing to be impeded by one-size-fits-all policies that ignore not only relevant circumstances but completely disregard the child’s right to self-defense. Contact the criminal defense attorneys at The Nahajski Firm at (206) 621-0500 for a free and confidential initial consultation.