Just in case you weren’t convinced that overcriminalization is giving good kids criminal records, an Eagle Scout (the highest rank in the Boy Scout organization) is being charged with a felony for an honest mistake.
David “Cole” Withrow, a North Carolina high school senior, is an Eagle Scout, an honor roll student, and now possibly a felon. Cole is being prosecuted for bringing an unloaded gun onto school property. Withrow accidentally left the unloaded shotgun in his truck after a weekend skeet shoot when he came to school.
Suddenly remembering that the shotgun was still in his truck, Withrow called his mother to have her pick up the gun and take it home. A school administrator overheard the conversation and called the police, who arrested Withrow and charged him with felony possession of a weapon on school property.
In recent years, two employees of the school district have left guns in their cars and neither was prosecuted. One of the employees was the assistant principal of Withrow’s high school who accidentally brought a loaded gun to school and was suspended without pay for three days. Nobody is calling for the assistant principal to be prosecuted, nor should they, but how can the same school allow for a mistake of an employee to go unpunished while coming down with the full weight of the law on an honor student for accidentally leaving an unloaded gun in his car?
The small North Carolina community has rallied in support of Withrow, even making signs and creating a twitter hashtag—#FreeCole. It is not uncommon that a large public outcry of support such as this will induce prosecutors to drop unjust cases such as this one.
In the case of the assistant principal, police and prosecutors inserted common sense into the law by not prosecuting an honest mistake. While laws should be written in a manner that citizens should not have to “rely on prosecutorial discretion to avoid being charged with a crime,” when an occasion such as this arises, police and prosecutors should exercise good judgment by dismissing the case. One can only hope they do so here.