High School Girl Faces Felony Charges For Yearbook Prank

from the bullying-gone-legal dept

Let’s start this off with the obvious: bullying sucks. In particular, when the bullies and the bullied are students, it sucks extra hard. That said, we’ve talked before about how overreacting to bullying situations ends up with everyone looking silly. And when the prosecutors and lawyers decide to get involved, all the more so.

Which brings us to Columbia, Missouri, where a 17-year-old high school student is staring down felony charges for changing a student’s last name in the school’s year book to something as unfunny as it was inappropriate.

A Columbia high school student faces a possible felony charge after her arrest for changing a classmate’s name in the school yearbook to a sexually suggestive term. The 17-year-old Hickman High School junior was arrested May 14 after she allegedly changed a student’s last name from Mastain to “masturbate” in the 100th edition of the Hickman Cresset yearbook. She could be charged with first-degree property damage, a felony, and harassment.

My first reaction to this was to be thankful that I didn’t have any access to my high school’s year book files. If I had, the overwhelming likelihood is that I’d still be serving time in a federal pen, with a teardrop tattoo or two on my face and a strong fear of showers. My second thought was, roughly: what the hell? Felony charges? I get that the school is probably annoyed, but this just screams of an over-reaction to suspected bullying. Hell, the victim of the prank doesn’t even seem to think it’s a big deal.

Raigan Mastain said although she wasn’t happy about what happened, she also “wasn’t devastated.”

“I was kind of annoyed. It was stupid, but I wasn’t that upset,” she said.

Elsewhere, she pointed out that she didn’t even know the girl that well, so the whole thing was strange to her.

Both Acopolis and the girl whose name was changed, Raigan Mastain, an aspiring graphic designer, called the last-minute change by another yearbook staff member as an act of immaturity, not malice. “I hardly knew her at all,” said Mastain, who graduated from Hickman last week. “I barely worked with her. We weren’t friends. But I didn’t think I had any problems with her.”

Still, given all that, Mastain went on to suggest that the charges would be warranted because “it’s bullying” and “there needs to be consequences” while also noting that the damage to school property was immense. However, considering she’s already graduated and didn’t even know any of this had happened until a friend discovered the prank and sent her a text message, how much personal harm was actually done? And for all the talk about property damage, the school decided not to even reprint the year books, instead covering up the naughty word with a sticker. What does a sticker cost? $1? $700 worth of cost, plus a mildly annoyed fellow student, equates to felony charges?

As with so many of these stories, it’s likely that emotions ran high and the school and community thought they needed to be seen doing something about so-called bullying. The end result, however, will be a young woman living the rest of her life with a felony on her record for what was a silly and stupid high school prank. That seems entirely unreasonable.

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Comments on “High School Girl Faces Felony Charges For Yearbook Prank”

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82 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Three possibilities:

1) Felonies are becoming so widespread, and used so often, that people are no longer seeing them as the serious charges they are meant to represent.

or

2) Those involved have no freakin’ clue what they are doing, or what a felony on the record actually means for those charged with one, but just though it ‘sounded about right’ for what was for all intents and purposes a slightly annoying, stupid prank.

or

3) Both of the above.

Ninja (profile) says:

Punishment that fits the crime. Make her pay for reprinting the Yearbook, give her a wrist slap and let her live on.

By absurdly ramping up the punishment of some petty crime you are generating ill-will towards the law (along with lack of respect) and generating tons of people that are prevented from getting decent jobs and many other things a felony charge does. Often this person will need to resort to crime to survive decently. Is that what the US want? Seems so.

Bryan (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Punishment that fits the crime. Make her pay for reprinting the Yearbook, give her a wrist slap and let her live on.

Way overthinking it. Make her pay for the stickers and actually stick them in place. Doesn’t involve the police AND is the equivalent of writing on the chalkboard “I will never change Mastain to Masturbate again” 100 times.

Bryan

Disgusted (profile) says:

I read a SciFi short story several decades ago where, because of overpopulation and crowding, the enforcement of law had gotten to the point where EVERYTHING was regarded as a felony, punishable by death…jaywalking, traffic violations, spitting on the sidewalk, you name it. Seems like we’re getting there pretty damn quick. Not to mention “1984” happening as we speak.

gorehound (profile) says:

Re: Corrective Action.

Good idea ! I was just thinking on how we did many pranks in the Early 70’s.Amongst those was the traditional set a fire in a wastebasket in the men’s bathroom or the flush an M-80 down a toilet.
Guess those dumb and stupid pranks get you Felony for life plus twenty years in the slammer.

Kids do dumb things.They are kids.Felony for life is bullshit.

Ophelia Millais says:

Re: Re: Corrective Action.

That kind of stuff continued through the mid-’80s where I lived. All the students in our (small-ish) high school were on guard for it, too; they even protected, across social and class divides, the kids who were acting out. No one was trying to “terrorize” or “bully” anyone. Everyone eventually grew up and became successful in adulthood; no one had to be taught a lesson or locked up for decades to send a message.

Our yearbook staff conspired to sneak things past the faculty advisor (or so we thought, who knows what she really knew), writing risqu? captions, creating fake students, swapping in embarrassing photos of kids doing things they weren’t supposed to be doing … it was all just silly fun. Now it would be “bullying” and someone have to pay with a felony record, I guess.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Zero tolerance?

First repay the loss plus some punitive damages. Perhaps period of community service cleaning highways and the like. Not being allowed to graduate with her class is about the max punishment that seems appropriate.

If a DA takes this to court he should be removed by the voters. Wasting the time of the court and resources of the prison is just plain over reacting. Zero Tolerance is just a sign of zero intelligence.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Zero tolerance?

“Where do you fit $41G worth of property damage into that array?”

In the same fictional universe where her actions require a felony charge? (FTFA, the school would only have incurred that if they had decided to reprint everything – they didn’t so it’s the cost of printing and applying the stickers at best)

Let this be a lesson to the school that pranks can be played, and kids don’t always see the consequences of their actions. Yes, she should have been more mature and not abused a position of relative authority to play a joke on a fellow student – but this isn’t a felony.

Hire a teacher to proofread everything before the send it to the printer next time rather than shipping the girl off to the cops. It makes more sense and saves everyone money (the idiotic investigation and prosecution of this girl will almost certainly cost the taxpayer more than her prank would have cost the school).

out_of_the_blue says:

Yes, kids, $700 IS felony level of damages.

At some level, “pranks” aren’t acceptable to adults, you just haven’t learned that yet. Don’t toss water balloons at cops. Don’t go into closets and “liberate” data as Aaron Schwartz did. Don’t hack into AT&T computers with scripts and get personal info even if you believe that anyone could do it by changing numbers. Don’t base your business on infringed content (too many to list!). In short, if it ain’t yours, LEAVE IT ALONE. That’s common law and common morality.

By the way, another name beginning with “Mas” should occur to you fanboys, but I suppose you’re too busy masnicking to recall it.

Rick Smith (profile) says:

Re: Yes, kids, $700 IS felony level of damages.

Not specifically about the article but just had a thought.

I know that states can set their own amount that constitutes felony damage so its different by your location. I don’t typically go around damaging anything regardless of how much I would like to sometimes, so I don’t really know the specifics of where I live, but from what little I do know, I can not ever remember the amounts being raised to keep pace with inflation.

So does this mean that as a kid I could have effectively destroyed more property than kids today?

Can’t seem to shake the question, if the above is true, how long until someone who grabs a McDonald’s hamburger from your tray can be arrested for a felony theft?

Are we, by mere oversight, creating a population of convicted felons?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Yes, kids, $700 IS felony level of damages.

So, name calling, lies, deflection and no attempt to defend the actions being taken. You missed the entire point of the article (which is that while the prank was stupid, the response is far stupider) and then attack people for saying things they actually said. You then whine about someone not related to the article at the end. Trying desperately to tie this into hacking is moronic even for you.

Does it tire you when you can’t write anything about the article and so have to resort to lies and deflection in order to write anything at all? Not writing anything is still a viable option if it does, and that comes with the bonus of everyone not pointing out what a tosser you are on every thread.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“And second of all nothing in the story says she was in charge of the yearbook. It’s possible she broke in the computer of the yearbook editor or something else along that line.”

From the article:

“Both Acopolis and the girl whose name was changed, Raigan Mastain, an aspiring graphic designer, called the last-minute change by another yearbook staff member as an act of immaturity, not malice.”

So she was on the yearbook committee. Since she was authorized make changes to the yearbook, I question whether any charges based on property damage are appropriate.

Anonymous Coward says:

instead of schools wasting time on this sort of ridiculousness and law enforcement doing the same, isn’t it about time that schools got on with teaching and teachers remembered what it was like when they were young and the stunts they pulled? i’m pretty sure that law enforcement have some serious police work to do, rather than going after someone over this sort of thing.

Mr. Applegate says:

What should have happened.

The student who changed the Yearbook should have to pay the cost to correct the ‘mis-spelling’. In other words pay for the stickers and postage… to see that they are delivered to every person who purchased a year book.

If you really thought it was bullying, rather than a prank make her write an apology note and send it with the sticker (copy costs… paid by her).

Common sense really isn’t all that common any more.

Anonymous Coward says:

Stickers are better than reprinting because yearbooks typically get signed and personalized. Easier to cover up the name than to give everyone a fresh yearbook and require them to get it signed and personalized again.

Make the girl pay for the stickers and for school time spent addressing the issue and write and publish (at her expense) a public apology in the local paper and do some community service work (preferably that exposes her to people suffering the consequences of stupid pranks intended to belittle someone else (which is a form of bullying). That’s punishment that fits the crime and might actually teach her something. (Which is why the education system could never do something like that.)

@spodula: zero tolerance = zero thought required — I like that and may steal it. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

It's good to know police/prosecutors have their priorities in order

According to http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/mo/columbia/crime/ Columbia has a crime rate higher than 87% of the other cities/towns in the country of similar size.

Of course now that this highly dangerous young woman has been dealt with, perhaps that’ll only be 86% now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why is it that these so called “adults” complain that my generation (80’s-2k’s) seem to be dumb and brainless when they are the ones who can’t seem to remember anything from before they were 35?
Zero tolerance… more like zero chance. Almost all do something stupid as a teenager and sometimes it can be high on the scale of stupidity, but it used to be that you could get over it at some point… now they just brand you for good and move on to the next.

Anonymous Coward says:

Arrested without a charge?

“The 17-year-old Hickman High School junior was arrested May 14”

“No charges had been filed against the teenager as of Tuesday afternoon.”

Arrested and no charges have been filed after 2 weeks? In a case like this there’s no reason why they couldn’t arrest her AFTER they figure out what to charge her with. There’s no threat to public safety that would require them to get her off the streets, and she isn’t likely to be on another yearbook committee for another year or so.

Anonymous Coward says:

Under that logic....

Wouldn’t anyone responsible for typing transcripts be in one hell of a liability trap? Make a typo in the closed captioning and you’re a felon. No if ands or buts about it. I wouldn’t want to be a programmer in Google’s project Gutenberg as they’d be held liable for all the damages from indirect mistakes of indirect property damage. *shudders*

I personally suspect that this sort of bullshit is due to minors being second class citizens with the ‘benefit’ of a system that gives the promised of shortened sentences in exchange for being the star of a show trial.

It is deeply messed up even /before/ the myriad perverse incentives of a private prison system. (See the infamous Pennsylvania “Kids for Cash” incident.)

bjg says:

article

I was bullied in high school and it was no joke. It still upsets me 30 years later. I don’t feel there is any room in society for the “MEAN GIRL” syndrome. Its outdated and if your school has a no bullying policy like ours then charges are exactly what are prescribed here. Maybe after this “Mean Girls” parents pay out thousands of dollars for her court fees, lawyers fees and fines they will take a more serious interest in what their “MEAN GIRL” is doing. I think a few months in jail with some real mean girls might just be what this teen needs to turn her life around and start being a “NICE GIRL”. Once you are in your teens that little “I’m sorry” doesn’t fly anymore. You know better than to do something like this to someone. Its not mean its hateful and just an awful thing to do. If I were her parents I would be so ashamed! This “MEAN GIRL” needs to do some jail time. I give the girl she did this to a lot of credit for being able to rise above this hateful girls actions but still there is cause for action to let others know this kind of behavior will not be tolerated and allowed in schools today. If she did this to my daughter she would be slapped with a whopping lawsuit!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: article

Congratulations, you just provided a perfect example of the ‘has no idea what a felony charge/jail time even means, but liked the sound of it anyway’ crowd. I’d wish you jail time just so you could see how bad such a ‘minor’ punishment actually is, but unlike you I realize what a horrible thing that would be to put someone through for no reason beyond ‘being mean’.

Also, and I’m going to be blunt here because I feel it’s important, if you’re still getting worked up over bullying 30 years afterwards, that is not a healthy thing, and you should see someone to deal with it and enable you to move on.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: article

“I think a few months in jail with some real mean girls might just be what this teen needs to turn her life around”

You think that sending a girl to a criminal facility, surrounded by hardened criminals, leaving with a felony on her record (with all the employment and other options that removes) will “turn her life around”? For jokingly changing a name in a book that should have been proofread before it ever went to print, and which even the “victim” doesn’t seem too bothered about?

This is idiotic. Get with reality, please. Oh, and I’m with That One Guy. I was bullied at school, as were many people. It doesn’t directly affect my adult life. If it’s still directly affecting you 30 years later, seriously get some help. There are 25 year olds who have gotten over their bullying in the time since you left school.

Jay Kusnetz says:

Free Stickers

There is a good chance that the stickers were provided for free. When I was involved with a yearbook a few years ago, Lifetouch provided free stickers to correct some typos. At the most the student could be responsible for a few hours of a teacher’s time spent supervising a few students placing the stickers.
Also, if the student is charged, then the yearbook teacher should also be charged, as it is the teacher’s responsibility to approve any pages for publication (the Lifetouch software had the option to limit that privilege to teachers)

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Wow, you’re both late to the party and completely wrong…

“you think that this kid should be able to walk around and continue her life with no consequence for what she’s done”

Nobody’s suggested that, only that the proposed punishment is way out of proportion.

“it was a prank for her but not for the girl that it was done to her..”

Wrong. read the article:

“Raigan Mastain said although she wasn’t happy about what happened, she also “wasn’t devastated.”

“I was kind of annoyed. It was stupid, but I wasn’t that upset,” she said.”

Take your self-righteousness elsewhere.

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