A new law that went into effect Jan. 1 could mean harsher punishments for students who get into a fight at school.
Under the new measure, if school resource officers or police officers witness students fighting or intervene in the altercation the students could be charged with a felony regardless of their age or grade level. It applies to fights on school property, school grounds and buses. The new law also covers bullying, according to the statute.
“I think we need this new law because it’s going to help minimize the fights we do end up having in the schools,” said officer Joe Herrera, a school resource with the St. Joseph School District.
Missouri’s revision to the criminal code, reclassifies third- and fourth-degree assaults from misdemeanors to felonies, according to the statute. A person commits third-degree assault if they knowingly cause physical injury to another person.
A fourth-degree assault can stem from multiple offenses including: if the person attempts to cause or recklessly causes physical injury, pain or illness to another person, acts with criminal negligence, causes physical injury to another person with a firearm or the person purposely places another person in apprehension of immediate physical injury, according to the law.
Herrera said the punishment is not harsh since fights can lead to devastating outcomes.
“Some of these fights can go wrong, let’s put it that way, for the students,” Herrera said. “If you get in a fist fight and hit a kid and he falls backward and hits his head you can actually hurt the kid really bad or end up killing the individual, but not on purpose.”
A third-degree assault is a Class E felony, unless the victim is considered a “special victim” which makes it a class D felony. A person can be classified as a “special victim” for many reasons including if they have a disability or if they are a vulnerable.
Herrera believes the penalty will reduce fights.
“It’s going to make them think about choosing the right decision about whether to fight in school and not getting in trouble,” Herrera said.
Students also can face jail time if they are convicted. A class E felony carries a sentence of up to four years in jail and a class D felony carries a term of up to seven years of imprisonment.