Criminal Justice

DA will drop case against teen convicted for recording his classmates bullying him


A Pennsylvania high-school student who recorded his classmates bullying him won’t have a disorderly conduct conviction on his record after all.

The Allegheny County District Attorney’s office said it would withdraw the citation against the student, who was convicted after school officials called police to report the “wiretapping incident,” report WTAE, CBS Pittsburgh, BenSwann.com and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The DA’s office doesn’t become involved in summary offense cases—the lowest-level criminal cases in the state—until the appellate level.

“No one in our office who is authorized to give advice on wiretap issues or school conduct issues was ever contacted in this matter,” the DA’s office said in a statement. “We do not believe this behavior rises to the level of a citation.”

The 15-year-old student at South Fayette High School in McDonald, Pa., says he recorded audio of the incident on his iPad because he felt like nothing was being done about persistent bullying. School officials forced the teen to erase the recording, gave him a detention for making it, and called police, according to press reports.

The teen’s mother heard the recording before it was erased. She said it captured classmates urging others to pull down her son’s pants and pretending to hit him in the head with a book.

According to the Volokh Conspiracy, the conviction apparently stemmed from testimony by a police officer who said a disorderly conduct conviction was justified because the recording was illegal and it is offensive to commit any kind of crime. The law punishes “physically offensive” conduct.

The blog disagreed with the cop’s interpretation and also said there was likely no underlying crime of illegal recording. Pennsylvania law makes it a crime to record conversations only when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

School officials said in a statement on Wednesday that some of the information about the incident is “inaccurate or incomplete,” and it treats reports of bullying seriously, according to the Post-Gazette. The law prevents further comment, the school said.

The teen told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the DA’s decision to withdraw the citation was “awesome.”

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Teen criminally convicted for recording his classmates bullying him in school”

See also:

ABA Young Lawyers Division: “Bullyproof: Anti-Bullying Initiative”

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