Teens Using Water Pistols

Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

A recent arrest from Modesto, California shows how water pistols have come to the attention of law enforcement personnel.

Several high school students decided to play a game of assassin (sometimes called senior assassin).  It involves chasing each other in cars and shooting each other with water pistols.  It’s essentially a faster, wetter version of the childhood game of tag.

Last Friday, this particular game of assassin took an unexpected twist.  As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the participants drove up to a red pickup truck thinking it was being driven by one of their friends.  They drenched the driver only to find out that they had the wrong man.  Not surprisingly, the driver of the van was not amused.  He chased the students and allegedly shot at them—with bullets.  The van driver eventually flipped his van over, and was arrested.

As a criminal defense lawyer, I was pleased to see that the Modesto Police focused on the conduct of the adult allegedly shooting bullets rather than the teens shooting water pistols.  The police couldn’t locate a gun, so the van driver was only charged with DUI.  It appears that the kids weren’t charged at all.  It is easy to imagine that a group of teenage boys could have been driving recklessly.  They could have been speeding.  That’s what I thought the story was going to reveal.

But that’s not what happened.  The teens apparently weren’t driving recklessly. That’s what’s refreshing about this story.  Too often police and society in general criminalize conduct that we used to deter through social controls.  A police officer interviewed about this story said something quite sensible-if you are going to play a game of assassin, be extra careful when you take it to a public place where bystanders can get involved. It’s nice to see for a change that this innocent mistake didn’t become a criminal matter for the teens involved.

I’m not holding my breath that this will happen again.  In many cities in Southern California, what happened in Modesto would have likely caused criminal charges to be filed against the high school students.

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