SJC sanctions retroactive application of new school disturbance law.

 
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Byline: Kris Olson

An amendment to the state statute governing disturbances at school assemblies should have been applied retroactively to a juvenile, precluding him from being adjudicated delinquent, the Supreme Judicial Court decided Oct. 29.

On Feb. 16, 2018, while sitting with other boys at a school lunch table, the juvenile, Ashe A., made prank telephone calls to a help hotline and a television news station.

When speaking to the news station, Ashe A. said something like, "I didn't get my lunch; I feel like killing someone."

The news station contacted the police, and after a brief investigation, the calls were traced to Ashe A.'s phone, along with the phone of someone sitting with him.

By then, Ashe A. had been released from school for an unrelated reason. Because he was no longer inside the school, the school administration ordered the students, faculty and staff to shelter in place.

The shelter-in-place order remained in effect for about an hour, until both boys were located.

On Feb. 20, 2018, a complaint issued against Ashe A., charging him with disturbing a school assembly in violation of G.L.c. 272, 40. He was arraigned in the Juvenile Court on the same day.

While Ashe A.'s case was pending, on April 13, 2018, the Legislature struck the former statute in its entirety and replaced it with a version that concludes "provided, however, that an elementary or secondary student shall not be adjudged a delinquent child for an alleged violation of this section for such conduct within school buildings or on school grounds or in the course of school-related events."

A judge in the Juvenile Court declined to apply the amended statute retroactively to Ashe A.'s conduct, and he was adjudicated delinquent in October 2018.

The SJC granted Ashe A's application for direct appellate review and concluded that the new statute should be applied retroactively to cases pending as of April 13, 2018.

In reaching that conclusion, the SJC explained that it was following principles of statutory construction described earlier this year inLazlo L. v. Commonwealth.

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