First off, let me say: This is not a political blog. I am not posting this as a political statement. I make no judgment about what you should think about Romney’s acts some 40-odd years ago at prep school and whether they should have any bearing on his candidacy for President. That is a discussion for another place. Moreover, I’m not passing on the validity of the story as reported, though it seems as though Romney has tacitly acknowledged that it occurred.
If you didn’t catch the news, there is credible corroboration that Mitt Romney was involved in an incident while in high school, where he and a group of friends held down another student while Romney forcibly cut the student’s hair. I was struck by the reaction of some in characterizing the incident, as described, as a mere prank. The fact is, it was a felony.
Section 750.82 of the Michigan Penal Code provides:
Except as provided in subsection (2), a person who assaults another person with a gun, revolver, pistol, knife, iron bar, club, brass knuckles, or other dangerous weapon without intending to commit murder or to inflict great bodily harm less than murder is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $2,000.00, or both.
I don’t think there’s any question the conduct constitutes an assault. As I best I can tell, the Michigan Penal Code doesn’t define the term itself, but it clearly meets the common law definition of assault, which is simply putting someone in fear of an imminent harmful contact. (There actually was harmful contact here.) I also don’t think there’s any question a pair of scissors constitutes a knife or other dangerous weapon. We can safely assume that Romney was not intending to kill the student or cause him great bodily harm. It was a battery as well, but it doesn’t seem as though Michigan makes a distinction between assault and battery for this sort of incident. Finally, there is an aggravating factor of committing an assault in a school, but that only affects the level of punishment not the classification of the crime.