I am a high school Chemistry teacher. This morning, while my back was turned to write on the board, one of my students (age 17) slipped a pill into my coffee mug. This is a thermos-style mug that has a screw-on lid with a small opening; it was obviously a deliberate act).

About 30 minutes later, when the bell rang to change classes, another student stayed behind to tell me NOT to drink anymore coffee "because [student name] put a white pill in it". Apparently, all 22 of my other students had witnessed this and even clapped and laughed as the perp ran back to her seat when I turned around. I had no idea what had happened and continued drinking my coffee as usual until the 2nd student warned me to stop.

I quickly went to be checked out by the school nurse who checked my vitals and found an irregular, rapid heartbeat and high blood pressure (both unusual for me). I was sent to the urgent care / occupational med clinic and underwent 3 hours of testing (x-rays, ekg, drug screening, etc). Luckily, no residual problems.

While I was gone, the student was searched and "Herbal Viagra" was found. She admitted to putting it into my coffee. She was suspended for 5 days. I told the school resource officer that I wanted to file charges against her and he said all she'll get is a "citation" because it isn't actually "criminal". Maybe it's because it wasn't a controlled substance. I can't believe that it's NOT A CRIME to drug someone without their knowledge or consent. Herbal supplements can interact with other meds wreaking havoc on a body. She doesn't know what meds I already take or what allergies I have. I was lucky... this could have turned out far worse than it did.

What are the legal ramifications of this situation? Is it a criminal act? What about the other 21 students who saw what happened and did/said nothing; just watched me ingest the medicine? Are they not accessories?

I live in Louisiana, by the way. Not sure if that matters.

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    Please note that this site is for general information about the law, and is not intended to give individualized advice. We can help you learn about laws that might apply, but we can't answer what any particular person is or isn't guilty of. This site isn't a substitute for actually hiring a lawyer. Nov 6 '18 at 4:57
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    @Nij I rolled back your edit as it certainly removed relevant information. For instance, that students "even clapped and laughed" constitutes assenting of a crime, and that could subject those complicit students to the criminal statute regarding accessories. It is fine for an OP to substantiate her position as to why that conduct merits a more serious sanction. When OPs do so, it helps us identify what (if anything) is missing in their rationale and clarify accordingly. Keeping OP's expression "Luckily" does no harm at all, and it shows we have some tact about her understandable concern. Nov 6 '18 at 11:28
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – feetwet
    Nov 6 '18 at 18:39
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    For the record: Nij's edits to the question were appropriate and helpful given our customs and rules for several reasons: (1) As originally written, it's tricky to determine what the legal question(s) are here. (2) While no requests for specific legal advice were apparent, such levels of personal and non-hypothetical detail are discouraged because this site is for questions of law, not general self-help. (3) It was also unclear whether names were pseudonymous (as they should be, and as we will assume they were).
    – feetwet
    Nov 6 '18 at 18:48
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    In this case, we will leave the more rambling form of the question for three reasons: (1) Details that could have been removed have already been referenced in answers. (2) While not an exemplary question, as written it does not violate any rules or policies. (3) We must avoid "edit wars." That said: If you find the question as written unclear, not useful, or lacking in effort, you can click the downvote button to register your displeasure.
    – feetwet
    Nov 6 '18 at 18:55

If the pill contained a harmful or noxious substance, this is battery, which is a crime in Lousiana ("the intentional administration of a poison or other noxious liquid or substance to another"). There is a specific crime in LA, battery of a teacher, which is dealt with somewhat more severely than non-teacher battery.

It is not a crime to observe a crime being committed and not warn the victim, but it is a crime to aid the commission of the crime (for example to help the perp remove the lid, to supply the drug). Under section Title 17, a teacher battered by a student can file a school-system internal complaint which may lead to the student being expelled (this is ultimately covered by district-specific procedure). This is independent of criminal charges.

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    @Hasse1987 I’m not sure of the precise legal reasoning, but spiking someone’s food or drink with a recreational drug is considered an assault, battery or poisoning in every jurisdiction I’m aware of, and the argument that it didn’t cause any harm doesn’t seem to hold any water. (Slapping someone doesn’t cause any harm either, it’s still battery.) Furthermore, I’d suggest that a substance inducing a rapid, irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure fits the standard legal definition of a noxious substance in the US. Nov 6 '18 at 4:53
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    Say, hypothetically, that the substance put into the drink were 100% inert, e.g. if it were a placebo pill, that didn't cause any physical harm to the teacher. Still, the teacher seems to have a legitimate basis to fear for their health, which would imply.. what? I mean, would that still constitute something like intimidation?
    – Nat
    Nov 6 '18 at 14:30
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    Regarding being a "harmful or noxious substance"; even herbal supplements can still be harmful. In addition to potential interactions with other medications the person may be taking, if the person is already suffering hypotension (low blood pressure), an herbal supplement that further lowers their blood pressure could lower it to dangerous levels.
    – Doktor J
    Nov 8 '18 at 22:33
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    Coming from a medical perspective, products marketed as herbal viagra are often more dangerous than sildenafil that is FDA approved, physician prescribed, and dispensed by a legitimate pharmacy. There are multiple case reports of harm. Some products marketed as herbal or natural are innocuous, but the only thing you can say for certain is that there is less oversight.
    – De Novo
    Nov 8 '18 at 23:44
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    Herbal does not mean safe. It means it is made from plants. You can easily kill someone using the right plants.
    – Nelson
    Nov 9 '18 at 11:23

I told the school resource officer that I wanted to file charges against her and he said all she'll get is a "citation" because it isn't actually "criminal".

The school resource officer should be fired for jumping to inept conclusions instead of bothering to conduct at least a minimum of legal research on this. It would have taken him less than 20 minutes to realize that RS 14:38.1 sanctions with imprisonment the intentional mingling of harmful substances with someone's drink.

What about the other 21 students who saw what happened and did/said nothing; just watched me ingest the medicine? Are they not accessories?

Yes, they are what Louisiana law would call accessories after the fact. They might be sanctioned under RS 14:25 if it can be substantiated that their silence/concealment implies their intent that the girl who mingled the substance "escape from arrest, trial, conviction or punishment." (emphasis added).

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – feetwet
    Nov 12 '18 at 21:12
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    I think the school resource officer wasn't jumping to a conclusion, but rather trying to protect the school. Nov 14 '18 at 4:41

Edit 11/13/2018

Yes, I'm aware this answer does not address "what are the legal ramifications"; it is rather an overview of what the OP should consider doing in order to protect her case and herself from the misconduct of the local school and law enforcement authorities.

You need the school authorities, police department and prosecutor to take you seriously. Tell the principal and the school board you are looking for a lawyer, and then find one; look in the phone book or online for a personal injury lawyer who gives free initial consultations.

Finding a lawyer will cause the board and school district to take you seriously and properly charge the student and take some sort of disciplinary action against the rest of the class. Since all the kids are talking about it, the school also needs to make a general announcement to the school and the parents that these types of actions are illegal and will be punished.

Write down what people said, the date, and time if possible; keep any papers and emails. Don't say you are going to sue or press charges; let the lawyer help with those decisions.

The lawyer can also talk to to the local city/county prosecutor to see what is appropriate in terms of the relevant local and state criminal codes for youth offenders. You would consult with the lawyer and the prosecutor about encouraging the student to be charged with a crime, i.e. battery of a teacher, as pointed out by user6726 in his answer: RS 14:34.3 - Battery of a school teacher : Louisiana Laws.

You could also file suit against the school for damages, but you may not need (or want) to actually do that if the lawyer can make enough noise so that they will take the situation seriously. But don't threaten a lawsuit; let the lawyer deal with that. Depending on what the school board and district does and doesn't do, you could take further action in terms of suing for damages; that would be under the advice of your lawyer.

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    While doing this may or may not be a good idea, this does not answer the question. The question was not "What should I do?" (which would be off-topic), but "What are the legal ramifications?". Also, I don't think it is a good idea to tell OP what they "should" do - we can outline options, but only OP can decide what to do.
    – sleske
    Nov 6 '18 at 6:55
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    Also, could you clarify on what basis OP could sue the school for damages? I don't see any wrongdoing on their part.
    – sleske
    Nov 6 '18 at 6:56
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    @MartinBonner That implies that there's something the school could have done to prevent this. What could that be? Redesign classrooms so the teacher can write on the blackboard without turning away from the students? Install guards or monitors in every classroom?
    – Barmar
    Nov 6 '18 at 20:15
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    @Barmar They could forbid food and beverages in the classroom.
    – Wumms
    Nov 6 '18 at 21:23
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    @Barmar What about forbidding drinking and eating? IIRC it both was forbidden in my school's chemistry lab (in Germany) since we were experimenting with chemicals on the desks.
    – Wumms
    Nov 6 '18 at 21:39

Whether you choose to press charges is up to you, and not to the school. If you do though, make sure you have copies of all evidence relating to the school investigation and the student's suspension, in case it happens to "disappear" and everyone loses their memory.

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    I'm not sure how it works in Louisiana, but in most states that I'm familiar with, a school resource officer is a police officer.
    – bdb484
    Nov 6 '18 at 15:09
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    This FAQ about "school resource officers" might be a good reference. It does sound like federal regulations require them to be police officers.
    – Nat
    Nov 6 '18 at 17:02
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    SROs are one of the reactions to the epidemic of school shootings we've been experiencing. The name makes them sound less intimidating than "armed guard", which is actually what they are.
    – Barmar
    Nov 6 '18 at 20:10
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    @Barmar citation needed. SROs have been around since the 1950s and they do a lot more than act as an "armed guard". Nov 6 '18 at 21:23
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    I don't know of any jurisdiction where the SRO works for the school.
    – bdb484
    Nov 7 '18 at 0:30

I think the other answers are off-base to the extent that they assume that what the student put in your drink is "noxious," "harmful," or "poison." As you describe it, they put herbs in your coffee, and I don't think that in most cases, one could accurately categorize a commercial herbal supplement as poison. Even if you had special circumstances that made you allergic, I suspect that would only mean that you were particularly vulnerable -- not that the pill was poisonous.

I think a better fit would be RS 14:59, the criminal mischief statute:

Criminal mischief is the intentional performance of any of the following acts:

(1) Tampering with any property of another, without the consent of the owner, with the intent to interfere with the free enjoyment of any rights of anyone thereto, or with the intent to deprive anyone entitled thereto of the full use of the property.

The status of the other classmates is not clear. Louisiana puts participants in crimes in two categories: principals and "accessories after the fact."

Principals are the ones who do the act, help do the act, counsel others to do the act, or procure someone to do the act. If there were students serving as lookouts, egging on the students who put the chemical into your drink, or otherwise pushing the events toward the commission of the offense, those people would be considered principals and would be criminally liable.

Accessories after the fact are those who "harbor, conceal, or aid" an offender to prevent them from being punished. Simply failing to report the crime is typically not enough to trigger accessory liability, nor is refusing to snitch when asked. Affirmatively lying may be enough.

The circumstances here sound serious enough, though, that you should probably consult a real attorney -- maybe through your union, or through an employee-benefits plan -- to go over the specifics and answer the outstanding questions that will lead to the best outcome for you.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Sep 30 '19 at 3:53

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