Common Sense: Legislature must revisit ‘zero tolerance’ laws
October 17, 2013 12:25 AM | 2517 views | 4 4 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Common sense has come to the rescue of Lassiter High senior Cody Chitwood, who made the mistake of forgetting he had some fishing knives in his car when he parked it at school last month.

Under Georgia’s zero-tolerance law for weapons on school campuses, the young man was summarily arrested and charged with a felony because authorities are given no discretion by the law.

The story, first reported by this newspaper, was picked up by other news media, heightening concern over this glaring example of unintended consequences.

The injustice was clear to Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds who told the Marietta Daily Journal on Tuesday he had agreed to a request from Chitwood’s attorney, Joel Pugh, to place the teenager in a pretrial diversion program. After he completes it, the case against him will be dismissed and expunged from his record. “I agreed to make sure he would have nothing in his record where it would affect him in the future,” Reynolds said, aware that a clean record will enable Chitwood to follow through on his plan to enter college and enlist in the U.S. Air Force.

DA Reynolds also expects to make a decision very soon in a similar recent case, that of Allatoona High senior Andrew Williams, who was arrested and charged with a felony under the zero-tolerance law because he had a pocket knife in the console of his car parked on campus. There’s no indication that Williams had any sort of illegal intentions, and this is another opportunity for the district attorney to show the common sense he exhibited in the Chitwood case.

Even better for the school children of Cobb and other counties in Georgia, Reynolds (1) is not a fan of zero-tolerance laws, and (2) is working with state Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb) and others to remedy the rigid law that leaves no room for discretion by authorities regardless of the circumstances and threatens to ruin the lives of youngsters who unwittingly violate the law.

The DA has the vantage point of a parent. He said, “Having to raise two teenagers myself, it concerns me these kids can get jammed up on things because these laws don’t allow for any mitigating circumstances.”

Reynolds also approaches the problem with the insights of a former police officer. “You don’t check your common sense at the door when you get a badge and a gun,” he said, pointing out that police officers want to use their common sense, “but you can’t do it when you have a zero-tolerance law.”

The district attorney has already researched laws in other states and says Texas legislation provides statutory language that he believes will be more appropriate for Georgia. He wants legislators to take a hard look at the existing Georgia law “and see if they want it to stay the way it is.” Here in Cobb, the news coverage of the Chitwood and Williams cases has spurred several other lawmakers in addition to Tippins to work toward fixing the zero-tolerance law.

As Reynolds said of his collaborating with Sen. Tippins, “we’re just trying to put a little horse sense back in the law.” It will be a long-overdue reprieve for Georgia school children who, with an innocent mistake, can face the full and unjust force of zero tolerance.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
count the articles
October 21, 2013
Count the articles about high school kids dying and the reason that surpasses all others by orders of magnitude is .... cars.

Cars kill our children at an alarming rate. Period.

Why do we tolerate children driving cars to school?

Is it because we don't want to miss our afternoon soaps to pick them up after practice?

Is it that we don't want safe paths to school where they could use a bicycle?

Those societies that toss children into volcanoes to appease their gods in exchange for a promsise of affluence and success.. boy are THEY barbarians.
Michael Redd
October 17, 2013
Hallelujah for Common Sense!
Mike Woodliff
October 17, 2013
There are some laws that are so bad and so inanely stupid they beg for civil disobedience. Zero Tolerance laws are such. I'd be likely to push it deliberately just to get an intelligent conversation going about it. From what I've read about the teenager and his family, I'd even be upset with the pre-trial diversion business. Stupid laws and stupid enforcement don't protect anybody.
lawyer fees?
October 17, 2013
Imagine if Chitwood's folks didn't have the money to hire a lawyer. A young kid would have been a convicted felon. Money talks...

The school board should also revisit their expulsion policy.
*We welcome your comments on the stories and issues of the day and seek to provide a forum for the community to voice opinions. All comments are subject to moderator approval before being made visible on the website but are not edited. The use of profanity, obscene and vulgar language, hate speech, and racial slurs is strictly prohibited. Advertisements, promotions, and spam will also be rejected. Please read our terms of service for full guides